Immigration Regulations: update by Inter-Ministerial Committee; Asylum & Travel statistics, with Minister

Home Affairs

01 March 2016
Chairperson: Mr B Mashile (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The presentation of the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) focussed on the implementation of the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) recommendations in relation to the unintended consequences of the immigration regulations, and on the 2015/16 festive season operations at Immigration Ports of Entry.

For implementation of the IMC recommendations, measures had been divided into three phases: immediate phase, short-term implementation phase, and long term implementation phase. The immediate phase was implemented from 1 November 2015 to 31 January 2016. The short term implementation phase was managed from 1 November and was expected to be finalised by 31 October 2016. The long-term implementation phase was managed from 1 November 2015 and was expected to be completed by 31 March 2017 and beyond.

With regard to the immediate phase, prioritised measures included implementation of the capturing of biometrics at ports of entry, starting with a pilot at OR Tambo, King Shaka and Cape Town airports; introduction of an Accredited Tourism Company Programme (ATCP) for countries like China, India and Russia; consideration of a long-term Multiple Entry Visa for a period exceeding three months, up to three years, for frequent travellers (for business meetings), business people and academics; letters issued by principals confirming permission for children to travel on school tours; and extension of the validity of the parental consent affidavits to six months. These measures had been successfully implemented.

The report on progress covered the first phase and focussed on the immigration management function, central to which was the number of travellers processed. An impressive increase in overall movements was noted.

Members felt that the DHA should do more to ensure the security of South African citizens and this could be achieved by ensuring that all travellers’ biometrics were captured, that there were reliable network connections, and that there were sufficient human resources. The DHA should balance the need for economic growth with national security when introducing stringent measures. The recent new measures had had an impact on the tourism industry and seriously affected the South African economy.

Although Members were impressed by the work of the DHA, they sought clarity on the delay in rolling out of the capturing of biometrics at all ports of entry, on what the challenges had been during the testing phase, on how concerns over the information technology network were being addressed, on why Brazil had not been included in the Accredited Tourism Company Programme, on how the high level of absenteeism was being dealt with, why the immigration policy should be amended, and on the Department’s engagement with stakeholders. 

Meeting report

DHA briefing on progress made by the IMC
Mr Jackson Mckay, Deputy Director General: Immigration, took the Committee through the presentation, focussing on the implementation of the Inter-ministerial Committee’s recommendations in relation to the unintended consequences of the immigration regulations. For implementation, measures were divided into three phases: immediate phase, short-term implementation phase, and long term implementation phase. The immediate phase was implemented from 1 November 2015 to 31 January 2016. The short term implementation phase was managed from 1 November and was expected to be finalised by 31 October 2016. The long-term implementation phase was managed from 1 November 2015 and was expected to be completed by 31 March 2017 and beyond.

With regard to the immediate phase, prioritised measures included implementation of the capturing of biometrics at ports of entry, starting with a pilot at OR Tambo, King Shaka and Cape Town airports; introduction of an Accredited Tourism Company Programme (ATCP) for countries like China, India and Russia; consideration of a long-term Multiple Entry Visa for a period exceeding three months, up to three years, for frequent travellers (for business meetings), business people and academics; letters issued by principals confirming permission for children to travel on school tours; and extension of the validity of the parental consent affidavits to six months. These measures had been successfully implemented. However, it was noted that the issuance of a strong advisory for travellers accompanied by minors from countries which were visa-exempt in order to ensure compliance with unabridged birth certificate-related directives, did not form part of the IMC’s zero to three months phase. However, the matter had been prioritised between the departments. Having implemented all of the recommendations made by the IMC that fell within the DHA’s control, the DHA would focus on giving effect to the measures falling in the short-term implementation phase.

Mr Mckay noted that the introduction of the ATCP for China, India and Russia was on track. China had accepted being part of the ATCP, whereas India and Russia were still assessing this measure. However, the stakeholder engagement which was designed to be jointly managed between the DHA and the Department of Tourism had not yet been achieved. It was still in progress. The engagement was aimed at ensuring broader consultation within the tourism and travel industry.

Remarks by the Minister
Mr Malusi Gigaba, Minister of Home Affairs, said that as the travellers’ statistics indicated, Africa was a region that sent more travellers to South Africa. The most travellers were bona-fide business people and academics. In order to control and manage their movement, the DHA had approved the granting of ten-year multiple entry visa. However, it would not be limited to African travellers, but would include all those travellers classified as frequent travellers. People would be notified whether they qualified for the ten-year multiple entry visa. A trusted visa was also under consideration and would be issued to allow them to have freedom of access. It would not be restricted to people from Africa.

With regard to Lesotho, a control of movement system would be based on a trusted visa. One of the challenges with regard to the people of Lesotho, Bostwana, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe was that – because of the frequent travelling to South Africa – their passports quickly became full of stamps. When passports were full, South Africa requested the holders to apply for new ones and the issuance of new ones was too costly and bureaucratically cumbersome. The same applied to South Africans who frequently travelled to neighbouring countries. The DHA was working towards easing the flow of movements.

With regard to Botswana, a community border crossing mechanism had been introduced. A process of capturing the biometrics had also been introduced, which could allow visitors to travel not beyond a 20km radius. This applied to people who crossed the border for the purpose of visiting their relatives or studying. These movements were managed electronically. A study had been done on the South Africa-Botswana community border crossing and had been found to be successful, and it would be therefore be applied to other borders.

The stance of the ANC was that South Africans who were travelling with their children should carry unabridged birth certificates. In addition, a letter of consent was required. It ought to be valid for a period of six months, after which it would lapse. After lapsing, it had to be renewed again. The DHA was concerned with single parents whose partners were, as a result of a break-up, hostile and thus unwilling to sign letters of consent. In other instances, one parent – especially a father – had disappeared. In this regard, the DHA could not waive regulations, because regulations ought to apply to everyone equally. The DHA had advised single parents whose partners had disappeared or were reluctant to sign, to seek a court order authorising their children to travel with them.

On the same issue, the DHA was engaging with the Department of Social Development and the Department of Constitutional Development to find a way in which a family advocate could assist. The problem was that a family advocate was not a court. A family advocate could not have the same power as a court. The DHA could not involve itself in private matters but it would assist where it could. Some children had to attend studies abroad and, for some children, it was difficult to do so because parents were fighting.


Mr M Hoosen (DA) sought clarity on why the programme of rolling-out the capturing of biometrics had not been achieved. The first conversation about the introduction of biometrics had taken place in 2009, and two years ago a decision had been made that no one should be allowed in the country if his or her biometrics were not captured on their arrival.

The Chairperson said that Members should seek clarity on objective one only, and if they were satisfied with the response, should move to the second and then third, up to the last in that order. The objective was about implementation of the capturing of biometrics at ports of entry.

With regard to objective one, Ms H Hlophe (EFF) sought clarity on how the implementation of the capturing of biometrics was possible, given that it was reported that network connections were a huge problem. How was the issue of network connection being dealt with?

Ms S Nkomo (IFP) sought clarity on the biometrics’ capacity, specifically on what identified challenges were at the testing phase. Which were other ports urgently in need of capturing biometrics?

Mr D Gumede (ANC) appreciated the move to make sure that all stakeholders agreed on the immigration regulations in regard to obtaining consent. On the other hand, the use of biometrics was welcomed, as it was related to national security. While the capturing of biometrics was satisfactorily progressing, he sought clarity on measures in place to address the network issues.

The Chairperson asked Members to deliberate on the objectives, one by one.

Ms Hlophe asked why Brazil was not included as part of the ATCP. Was the DHA targeting members of BRICS?

Ms Nkomo sought clarity on which countries the system of capturing biometrics had been rolled out.

Members were satisfied with the outcomes of the objective one, which the DHA had successfully achieved. They were also happy with the progress made in relation to objectives two to eight.

Mr Gigaba said that the issue raised by Mr Hoosen would be dealt with in the process. On the issue of the network, he said that at ports of entry network connection services were provided by the SA Revenue Service (SARS) and not the State Information Technology Agency (SITA). There was a huge distinction between services provided by SITA and SARS. The services that were supplied by SITA were used at the DHA’s front offices. The challenges that were at some point experienced at the Maseru port of entry related to old computers. Those challenges had been attended to. Members should rest assured that the network connections at ports of entry were more reliable. The DHA had not experienced any connection problems, so it had rolled out the capturing of biometrics. To capture them, it could not take more than three minutes. The captured biometrics were safely stored for future use.

In rolling out the capturing of biometrics, the DHA had started with earmarked international ports, given the volume that the DHA had to deal with. International borders had been prioritised and the capturing of biometrics had been introduced at four international ports and would be introduced at all ports of entry during the upcoming financial year. The DHA was aware that many travellers were accessing South Africa by road. Beit Bridge was a port of entry that was used by many travellers.

Mr Gigaba said that a transaction advisor would be appointed to advise the DHA on how to deal with matters of ports of entry, especially upgrading the six commercial ports of entry with infrastructure to meet international standards. This would facilitate easy movement of people and commercial vehicles. It would facilitate increasing trade, reduce crime and corruption and ensure that South Africa provided a better experience to its clients who were travelling through the ports of entry. The transaction advisor had started to draft a plan which would require finances to be implemented. Soon, the DHA would discuss the draft with the National Treasury.

With regard to the ATCP, the decision was taken that the DHA would target the BRICS countries. Brazil could not fall into this category, because Brazil had a 30-day visa waiver. There was no need to accredit its tourism companies. Put plainly, Brazilians did not need visa to visit South Africa. That was the main reason why the DHA had to prioritise China, India and Russia. The DHA was awaiting the Department of Tourism to advise it on what companies from China and Russia could be accredited.

The Chairperson said that all decisions should take into consideration national security. It ought to be a high priority.

Mr McKay also said that some people on South African tours came in groups, and this affected the capture of their biometrics. However, it would be a problem in situations where many groups landed at one place at the same time, or where they landed at OR Tambo Airport, but were seeking to connect to Cape Town.

The capturing of biometrics was imperative for national security. Biometrics was not something new. However, the implementation of capturing biometrics ought to be in conjunction with other immigration measures. For instance, an immigration official was required to carry out various verifications or check-ups to determine whether a person was a bona-fide traveller. It was still a requirement to report at a port of entry, even if the biometrics had been captured. The three basic requirements were as follows: a traveller ought to have a return a ticket; the ability to sustain himself or herself; and to return on time. Compliance with these requirements was the responsibility of the travel agency. If a travel agency was incapable of checking that a traveller was compliant, the agency would as a result be discredited.

Mr McKay said that there were people who knew that they did not meet the requirements, and pre-arranged a court order that would allow them into the country. That was a big problem for the DHA.

Mr Hoosen reiterated that considering how the immigration challenges impacted on national security, the capturing of biometrics had been on the table since 2009 but nothing satisfactorily had been done. What had the DHA been doing since 2009? This problem had had an adverse impact on the tourism industry. He agreed that South Africa had to worry about national security, but national security ought to be balanced with national economic needs. The Minister was on record as saying that the immigration policy would not change. Why was the Department tabling an amendment to immigration law? It was appreciated that some work had been done in relation to immigration.

With regard to passports, clarity had been sought on whether each parent’s detail should be captured in the child’s passport, and appreciation had been expressed with regard to legal costs that might arise due to issues related to obtaining consent from hostile parents. Should new measures of obtaining consent be drafted, how long would that process take, in order to inform single parents of the procedure to follow? If an affidavit was produced that a father did not sign, what measures were taken to ascertain whether the father in question had disappeared or was a divorced father? How many court rulings had there been in which the DHA had lost cases and had been ordered to compensate the applicant due to allowing a child to travel without his or her consent?

Ms Hlophe sought clarity on how a long-term multiple entry visa worked. She welcomed it, noting that Africans ought to take care of one another. She felt that too much was being done in China’s favour, and sought clarity on the reason for this. She remarked that the issue of consent refusal was a societal problem. However, many single mothers were unable to trace the fathers of their children. When it appeared that a mother had progressed economically in her life, a husband would come from nowhere to claim that a mother had travelled with her children without his consent. This matter ought to be looked into.

Mr Gumede was of the view that a focus should be on securitising borders. It could not be denied that the flow of migration had brought many risks to society. The DHA should strive to have more secure borders. The main thing was that the DHA had adopted an inclusive approach to address immigration problems. It was the duty of DHA to ensure that undesirable activities were not allowed into our country. For example, the TB was on the rise, due to immigration. From a tourism point of view, there was a problem of airlines that were still requiring unabridged birth certificates, and this requirement was affecting tourism. The issue of scarce skills, in particular, and management and product development in general, were matters that had to be taken into consideration in adopting immigration measures.

Ms D Raphuti (ANC) welcomed presentation, and said it was not easy to deal with a critical issue of safety and security of South Africans, as well as tourists. Members must admit that they would not be happy if many travellers visited South Africa and their lives were threatened by insecurity.

The Chairperson sought clarity on how the DHA would monitor a person who possessed a long-term multiple entry visa, especially those who misused it in one way or another.

Mr Gigaba replied that he appreciated the robustness of Members’ engagement. It was true that the issue of biometrics had been introduced in 2009. The truth was that the capturing of biometrics could not be implemented without an Act of Parliament, and the allocation of a budget was not possible without enabling legislation, approved and adopted by the Parliament.

He said that the Visa Facilitation Centre (VFC) presented various problems. Three offices had been opened in the UK which provided visa exemptions. People in the UK had to go to the VFC to apply for a visa. The same applied to Botswana and Lesotho. The DHA had to be firm and rigorous in terms of verifying travellers to South Africa.

If a traveller came into SA with a short term visa, it could not be converted into a long term visa. There were, for example, thousands of workers who entered the country on a tourism visa and then sought employment. This was a mere circumvention of the immigration policy. In some instances, the DHA had no other option than to waive such circumvention. It was imperative that the DHA did its best to ensure that the immigration policy was adhered to at all times. For those who applied for a short term visa, biometrics was not captured at a port of entry. This was done at the place of application. South Africa should not be naïve when it came to dealing with foreign nationals. Each and every country was trying to minimise the risk that could threaten its own people. Brazil had taken a stance that it would “do to your people what you do to its people” in the name of check-ups.

With regard to seeking court orders for the purpose of gaining entry, Mr Gigaba said that there were people who were coming from Syria. They had landed at OR Tambo and due to insufficient documents, they had been arrested and locked op at the airport. Before the DHA could carry out its investigation, there had been a court order to allow them into the country. The DHA had not even been allowed to respond to that court order.

Visa regulations were in place and people could not be allowed into South Africa unless if they complied with the regulations. That was why the capturing of biometrics system had been introduced before the DHA could abolish the transit visa.

The changes to minors’ passports could not create uncertainties. It ought to include details of parents. It would remain in force, working in conjunction with unabridged birth certificates. The issue of single parents was going to be resolved very soon. When somebody provided a letter of consent, they had to attach a copy of the passport and identity document (ID). Sharing a surname should not be confused with a child-father relationship. People may share a surname, but were not related.

Leadership was about taking decisions and sticking with them. He agreed that he was on record as stating that he was unwilling to change immigration laws, but immigration law was not static. The IMC had proposed that Africans and academics should be given enough time in the country. The DHA gave them ten years. Consideration was always given to the balance between economic growth and security interests.

If neither an absentee mother nor father’s name appeared on a birth certificate, neither was in a position to give consent or lodge a legal claim that their children had left the country without their consent, unless both parents were listed on the birth certificate. In a case such as this, consent was a prerequisite.

With regard to the Chinese, it should be noted that China was sending the largest number of travellers to foreign countries, and countries were competing to attract them. South Africa was not unique. Each measure to attract Chinese was taken in terms of BRICS policy. South Africa attracted a mixed migration. Some were undocumented migrants, for example, whereas others were refugees or economic migrants. The issue pertaining to ports of entries and border communities needed an engagement and establishment of a database, which would include the capturing of biometrics. On the African continent, countries had not yet established a population register and this was a huge problem.

Mr Gigaba commented that an airline should request an unabridged birth certificate and check whether all requirements were met.

On the issue of security, he stressed that those who committed crimes in South Africa would not qualify for a long-term multiple entry visa.

On the issue of litigation, two cases had been recognised. In one case, the DHA had been sued for allowing a child to go out of the country, while in another it had been sued for not allowing a child to travel. There was no case in which it had been ordered to pay compensation.

Briefing by DHA on 2015/16 festive season operation at Immigration Ports of Entry
Taking into consideration the fact that time was against them, Mr Mckay focussed on the immigration management function. Central to this function was the number of travellers processed.

All movements for the period from 1 December 2015 to 7 January 2016 were as follows: movements of citizens totalled 1 487 148, whereas the movements of foreigners stood at 3 903 708. The increase in volumes in terms of arrivals was noted. Movements of foreign minors, as well as national minors, were highlighted. Generally, the increase was 7% for foreigners and 3% for citizens. A significant increase was noted for travellers from Africa, Europe, North America, Asia, Middle East and Australia. There had been a decrease of 1% in arrivals from South America.

There had been children who were refused entry or departure due to not meeting immigration requirements. Those minors who were refused permission to move in or out of the country numbered 4 405. The figure included citizens and foreign national minors.

Mr McKay concluded by saying the Department had experienced challenges. They included absenteeism, lack of sufficient staff, unreliability of IT in some Lebombo areas, and lack of stakeholders’ cooperation.

Ms T Kenye (ANC) asked whether there had been an increase in human resources, and sought clarity on why there was a huge vacant position. She wanted to know why the DHA was experiencing a shortage of equipment, what the position of separated parents was with regard to obtaining consent, what kind of disciplinary measures had been taken to prevent the high incidence of absenteeism, and the progress of stakeholders’ cooperation.

Ms N Mnisi (ANC) sought clarity on whether the low registration of refugees and asylum-seekers was due to administrative constraints, and what the statistics on refugees and asylum-seekers looked like.

Ms Hlophe remarked that she was very puzzled, because nothing had been mentioned in relation to KwaZulu-Natal in terms of arrivals and departures. She remarked that the DHA should not be proud of having a low number of refugees and asylum-seekers who were admitted into the country on the basis of implementing unjust and unfair policies.

Mr A Figlan (DA) sought clarity on the engagements with stakeholders to ensure that all people who arrived at borders went through security checks.

Mr Gumede asked whether a distinction was made between those who came as tourists and those who came for other purposes, and whether waiving visas took place in an attempt to address a shortage of skills. The issue of scarce skills should be taken into consideration in waiving visas.

Mr B Nesi (ANC) asked about the relationship between China and South Africa in particular, and sought clarity on the issue of the plane that had landed in Zimbabwe with a corpse and millions of rands on board. Why had the corpse not been detected when the same plane landed at King Shaka? How did the DHA conduct the security check-ups? Had the corpse been identified?

Ms Nkomo seconded the question posed by Mr Nesi in relation to the plane which landed in Zimbabwe, and asked for clarity on findings of investigation.

Ms Raphuti appreciated the work of the DHA and thanked Minister for his commitment to ensure the security and safety of all people living in South Africa or visiting South Africa.

Ms Hlophe wanted to know why there was no staff to support the work of the DHA, and on how the issue of human resource incapacity would be addressed.

The Chairperson asked why the arrivals were so much higher than the departures. In his view, this implied that people came in and refused to go back home. What might the reasons be behind staying? On the issue of recruitment, why did the DHA have insufficient human resources and what could be done to ensure that it was capacitated? On the issue of information technology (IT), why did the DHA depend on SITA, which was not supplying a reliable service? Was there a possibility of a deviation from its services, as the DHA services were of paramount importance? What could be done to ensure that the DHA had a reliable network connection and was afforded with necessary and reliable technical support in the area of IT?

Mr Gigaba responded that during the holidays, the DHA increased the deployment of staff at ports of entry to ensure that it did not suffer from a shortage of workers. On the question of disciplinary action, the Minister had engaged with the human resources department in order to address the issue of absenteeism. He recalled that there was a one day on which the DHA had experienced 32 absentees. Such absenteeism required drastic disciplinary measures, which had been taken.

On the issue of insufficient human capacity, Mr Gigaba acknowledged this was a major problem. He drew an example of the head at the OR Tambo Airport, who had resigned and the management position was under an acting manager. To find a competent manager was not as easy as it looked. On the question of management, he said that it would be difficult to manage a huge port of entry such as Beit Bridge if it was experiencing human resource incapacity.

On issue of equipment, Mr Gigaba said that in any operation it was difficult to have all the required or necessary equipment at one’s disposal. The question was rather how to optimise the equipment available. It should be borne in mind that the country had been requested to tighten its belt. Notwithstanding such a request, in the previous year there had been a grant of an additional budget which could not address all the financial matters. Cutting the budgets down was a request made by the National Treasury, and this would have adverse implications for the operation of the DHA.

Mr Gigaba noted that the DHA was included in the security cluster, and a decision had been taken to be exempted from SITA services. The services were provided at front offices and not at ports of entry. At ports of entry, the DHA relied on SARS’s services which were smoothly supplied.

He declined to talk about statistics on refugees, saying that the DHA would be coming to brief the Committee on matter of asylum seeking.

He said that some airports had been designated as international airports during the 2010 World Cup and had remained as such. This ought to be reviewed. Those airports were not international airports.

On the issue of a distinction between travellers, the DHA did not distinguishing between tourists and other travellers.

On the question of China-South Africa relations, Mr Gigaba said that Chinese people made a significant contribution which boosted tourism industries around the world. South Africa was also doing its best to attract Chinese to come to South Africa in numbers. Tourists were pouring money into the country and China had a largest number of travellers in the world. The attraction of Asians was bearing fruit.

On amending the immigration policy, he said that the move to make amendments to the immigration law was due to the tourism sector’s complaints, holding that the existing immigration law was destroying the sector. What needed to be noted was that South Africa, like other countries, had to take restrictive measures to ensure that undesirable people did not have access to South Africa, or that undesirable activities took a place on South African territory.

On the question of the plane which landed in Zimbabwe, the investigation was still in progress and the Minister had no information from which answers could be drawn.

On arrivals exceeding departures, Members should be happy with those statistics and should not worry when departures exceeded arrivals. It would be more problematic if the departures exceeded arrivals. The former could not be translated as indicating that there were a high number of over-stayers or illegal migrants. That assumption was wrong.

Mr McKay referred to obtaining consent, and said that the DHA supported family unity but was also conscious that some people might abuse such a principle of family unity for their selfish personal interests. The challenge was therefore how to operationalise the obtaining of consent in a fair and just manner.

The Chairperson thanked Mr Gigaba for his brief on the progressive report, and appreciated the statistics. Members should make a call that people who wanted to travel ought to comply with South African immigration rules, as well as the immigration rules of countries they intended to visit.

The meeting was adjourned.


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