Department of Home Affairs actions towards having more flexible visa requirements to support tourism growth; Department of Tourism statistics to show how tourism influenced by this
Chairperson: Mr D Gumede (ANC)
Date of Meeting: 20 June 2011
The Departments of Home Affairs briefing was intended to show the support it provided to tourism development and growth. The briefing spoke to immigration services and the way in which the Department of Home Affairs managed it. The Department of Home Affairs had to maintain a balance between national security and economic imperatives. A cornerstone for the effective management of immigration was to ensure that necessary controls were instituted providing maximum gains with minimal risk to
The Chairperson said the briefing should have contained a clear articulation of what actions DHA was taking to have more flexible visa requirements as President Zuma had outlined in his State of the Nation Address.
Members raised concerns about the dire state of affairs at SA’s border posts which they had observed during oversight visits. Foreign nationals were freely entering SA thereby putting a further strain on SA’s limited resources. Members were interested to know if this state of affairs had changed in the meantime. Members felt the Department of Home Affairs was actually making it easier for persons to enter SA. The granting of extended visas to certain categories of visitors was called into question given that many persons who came to SA often did not leave. The proliferation of false documentation amongst illegal immigrants, the granting of work permits to asylum seekers were issues Members felt needed addressing. The Committee was concerned that the strain on SA would become too much to bear if things continued as they were. Xenophobic attacks were once again on the rise and the concern was that this might spiral out of control.
The intention of the Department of Tourism briefing was to give the Committee an indication of where demand was growing in tourism markets in relation to the work that the Department of Home Affairs was doing. Members were given a breakdown of statistics to illustrate this. For example, as at 2010, 14.6% of all persons travelling from
Department of Home Affairs (DHA) briefing
Mr Jackson Mckay, DHA Deputy Director General: Immigration Services, noted that the briefing was on immigration services and the way in which the Department of Home Affairs managed it. The Department of Home Affairs had to maintain a balance between national security and economic imperatives. He referred to President Zuma’s State of the Nation Address which called for the boosting of SA’s tourism potential by perhaps looking into more flexible visa requirements. A cornerstone for the effective management of immigration was to ensure that necessary controls were instituted providing maximum gains with minimal risk to the
The Department of Home Affairs was also training officials as specialists in detecting fraudulent travel documents which would be useful when Document Fraud Units were established at major ports of entry. Immigration officials should also elicit information from travellers as to their bona fides to visit SA. DHA adopted a comprehensive Law Enforcement Strategy that emphasised the role of immigration through the enforcement of controls instituted to monitor travellers who transgress immigration laws. The Department of Home Affairs had also introduced a transit visa required by a foreigner who was subject to visa requirements when such foreigner travelled from a place outside SA through SA to any of the neighbouring countries. As in the case of visitors’ visas, transit visas were processed within five working days. The Committee was provided with a comprehensive list of countries that were visa exempt. Included on the list were the
The Chairperson appreciated the briefing but stated that there should have been a clear articulation of what actions the Department was taking to have more flexible visa requirements as President Zuma had outlined in his State of the Nation Address.
Department of Tourism briefing
Mr Victor Tharage, Deputy Director General: Policy, Research, Monitoring and Evaluation, the Department of Tourism, said the intention of the briefing was to give an indication of where demand was growing in the tourism markets in relation to the work that DHA was doing. For example as at 2010, of the persons travelling from
Members were given a breakdown of statistics of the 2009 spend in core and investment markets by tourists from 11 countries. In core tourism markets, the Angolans once again took the lead. The average Angolan spent R21 600 in SA when he visited. The average Nigerian spent R14 800, Americans spent on average R13 400 and the British spent R11 500 on average. The total
The Chairperson pointed out that there seemed to be a great deal of foreign nationals employed in the hospitality industry especially in the restaurant industry. The figure was especially high in the
Mr Mckay stated that the DHA together with the Department of Labour needed to address the issue. The reason could perhaps be that there were certain jobs which South Africans did not wish to do. It was an international trend that foreigners did jobs which locals refused to do. He conceded that many restaurants employed foreign nationals. Another reason could be the asylum seeker process. Whilst the asylum seeker’s application was being processed, he was entitled to a study and work permit. Judgment had been given in a court case that asylum seekers had the right to sustain themselves whilst their application was being processed. The Department of Home Affairs was considering reviewing its immigration and refugee policies.
Ms J Terblanche (DA) stated that the Home Affairs briefing had made mention of organised crime perpetrated by Nigerians, Chinese and Pakistani foreign nationals. What was concerning was the state of affairs at ports of entry and at border posts at Beitbridge and
The issue of human trafficking across borders was known but what about organ trafficking. She referred to an article that she had read about a person travelling with a head on his lap without being stopped and questioned about it. The role of the Home Affairs Department was crucial in curbing such instances. She asked if the situation at Beitbridge and
Mr Mckay recalled the oversight visits by members to the ports of entry. From what was observed it was clear to him that border control was not only the responsibility of the DHA. Home Affairs had the task of checking documents. Border line security was the responsibility of the Department of Defence. The problem of holes in border fences was the responsibility of the Department of Defence as well.
He said the issue of organ trafficking was a customs and police issue. It was the responsibility of customs and police to check vehicles that transport contraband. As it was the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture to prevent the smuggling of rare plant species and the Department of Health was responsible to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. Hence port control involved many departments. He reiterated that border control was the responsibility of the Department of Defence
He differed with Ms Terblanche and believed that the transit visa to be an effective deterrent. Airline statistics had shown that there was a decrease in passengers in transit through SA. He did not believe that the granting of long-term visas to Indians and Chinese travellers, for example, was encouraging them to visit and eventually stay in SA. The DHA by granting long-term visas was trying to facilitate the bona fide movement of visitors. It tried to balance the facilitation of people coming to SA against security issues that crop up. There were many benefits to persons visiting SA. The benefits to be gained should be accentuated. SA must not come across as being xenophobic - we should embrace different cultures. Home Affairs shared Members’ concerns that its processes and procedures might be too lax.
He stated that before democracy SA had a closed society. It was designed to keep people out. The DHA aimed to have a balanced immigration system. There should be maximum benefits whilst minimizing risks. It was the methodology being followed currently. The DHA was in the process of reviewing its Immigration Policy. The requirements for visas and permits would be relooked at. SA needed scarce skills from abroad at the moment and needed to incentivise such persons to come to SA. There still needed to be a balance between attracting people to SA and security.
Ms Terblanche stated that she was aware that there were many departments involved when a person entered SA. At the end of the day it was a DHA problem. To make matters worse the SA taxpayer had to foot the bill for illegal immigrants. To say that it was the responsibility of the police to check motor vehicle boots was unacceptable. When illegal persons were in SA it became a South African problem. She categorically stated that she was not xenophobic and found it insulting that insinuations were made that she was. What was meant by the statement that SA should be open to other cultures?
The Chairperson stated that the Committee agreed with the concerns raised by Ms Terblanche. The response by Mr Mckay was in response to many people and not only aimed at Ms Terblanche specifically. If Ms Terblanche felt offended, he would be the first to apologise.
Mr Mckay responded that he respected the Committee and members and had presented on what had been requested of him. Whatever he had stated was not meant to offend anyone and it was by no means intended to be personal. Questions were answered to the best of his ability and in a frank manner which he thought members would appreciate. He apologised for offending anyone. The roles of the departments which he had alluded to were in fact their mandates. He apologised to Ms Terblanche if he had in any way offended her.
Mr G Krumbock (DA) referred to visas and the fact that tourism was apparently being affected by the stringent requirements in the granting of tourism visas. He asked if there was a document or position paper that could be made available to the Committee so as to better understand the issue. What were the problems? What was required to solve it? What were the timeframes? He referred to the statistics provided by the Department of Tourism in the briefing document and stated that they were difficult to understand. It was astounding that the average Angolan visitor spent R21 000 whereas an American tourist only spent R13 000. The Angolans even outspent the Australians and the British. What was the reason for the phenomenon?
Mr Mckay was not sure which position paper Mr Krumbock was referring to. He asked Mr Krumbrock to perhaps clarify.
Mr Tharage explained that it was true that Angolans were big spenders. Angolans often stayed at Michaelangelos in Sandton. They also spent money on expensive clothes and shoes. The British tourist on the other hand was frugal and often stayed with friends or family in SA. They counted every cent and did not spend money on expensive things.
Mr Krumbock referred to page 16 of the DHA briefing document and made reference to the fact that the Department of Tourism felt that SA’s visa application process was too long. He asked what the DHA was doing about this. If visas were the problem, was it holding tourism back?
Mr Mckay responded that the DHA turnaround time for visas was five days. Tourist visas were the lowest risk visas and were issued within five days. The tourist visa would only take time if there was a problem or some documentation was needed. He conceded that there were backlogs on work and study permits but the DHA was working on reducing it. Tourism visas were different and were on average granted within five days.
Ms V Bam-Mugwanya (ANC) stated that her concerns had been covered by Ms Terblanche. She wished to reiterate the shocking observations that members had made during their oversight visits to borders and ports of entry. The situation was so bad that the Committee wished to know if things had changed for the better. The efforts of the DHA needed to be looked at closely as it impacted upon the economy as well as on the occurrence of xenophobic attacks. The lack of control at borders was shocking. The fear was that xenophobic attacks might escalate. She also asked how business partners were engaged.
Mr Mckay referring to business partners, stated that the DHA followed the Public Finance Management Act prescripts. It was a tender process.
Ms M Njobe (ANC) stated that she supported the sentiments expressed by members and that SA citizens needed to be protected against the corrupt practices of foreigners. She referred to the list of countries that were exempt from requiring visas to visit SA and pointed out that certain types of countries had been left off the list. She made specific mention of Arab countries.
Mr Mckay stated that the DHA was in the process of negotiations over the issue of waiving visas for certain Arab countries. Discussions with these countries had only started in 2010. Some of the countries being considered were
On the registration of Zimbabweans, the DHA had received over 250 000 applications. The registration of Zimbabweans project was close to completion. Currently there was a moratorium on the deportation of Zimbabweans. In the future, DHA intended deporting illegal immigrants. Currently illegal immigrants who had been jailed were deported.
The Chairperson stated that all South Africans had security issues. Security was an issue that needed addressing. He noted that his constituency was next to the
Ms Njobe asked the DHA to protect the citizens of SA. Identity theft was a huge problem. Where did fraudsters obtain the materials that they used? She was convinced that there were corrupt officials supplying them with materials. The DHA should do internal investigations as its officials could be complicit in criminal activities.
Mr Mckay stated that the DHA was in the process of signing a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Tourism.
Mr Tharage added that the Department of Tourism was to have a broader relationship with the DHA.
The Chairperson felt that refugee status and the right to work needed to be relooked at. Perhaps it was an issue that Parliament needed to discuss. Under apartheid, many South Africans were refugees in other countries but were not allowed to work.
The meeting was adjourned.