Patches ease visa woes but obstacles remain

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WHEN the new immigration regulations were implemented in 2014, they were met with near-universal condemnation. Parents were outraged at the requirements for travelling minors, the tourism sector was in a state of near-panic as arrivals dwindled, thanks to prohibitively onerous visa requirements, and investors and business people were unsure if their freedom of movement would be impeded. It was an untenable situation.

In response, an interministerial committee was established to tackle some of the main issues. The immediate measures proposed by the committee included:

Implementing systems to capture biometric data at key ports of entry, with pilot programmes at OR Tambo, King Shaka and Cape Town international airports;

Introducing an accreditation programme for tourism companies from fellow Brics countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China);

• Considering a long-term multiple-entry visa for a period ranging from three months to three years to accommodate business travellers and academics;

• Allowing principals to issue letters confirming permission for children to travel on school tours; and

• Extending the validity period of the parental consent affidavit to six months.

Progress has been swift and encouraging. Biometric systems are in place at the three major airports as well as Lanseria. Thanks to this, transit visas are no longer required for people travelling through these ports of entry. Biometric data collection on arrival and departure means groups of Chinese travellers no longer have to apply for transit visas in person, easing their entry.

While the Chinese government’s stringent regulations have played a part, the Department of Home Affairs must be commended for its practical stance on this matter.

Business travellers and academics can now obtain long-term multiple-entry visitors’ visas that are valid for up to 10 years for citizens of African countries, and three years for those from other countries. A standardised template for school principals that can be downloaded from the department’s website has eased freedom of movement for school groups. The highly controversial parental consent affidavit has also been extended from four to six months.

Broadly speaking, the department has done a commendable job of attending to the damage wreaked by the original regulations, with further measures due to be implemented in the next few months. However, some baffling issues need to be dealt with urgently to ensure the integrity of our immigration policy and respect the rights of SA’s citizens.

A judgment in a case dating back to January found that if a foreign national is married to or in a life partnership with a South African citizen or permanent resident and is in possession of a visitor’s visa in terms of section 11(1), the foreign spouse or partner may apply for a visitor’s visa in terms of section 11(6) from within SA. Following this judgment, however, visa facilitation services centres have been instructed not to process such applications.

The Immigration Act makes provision for a spouse and dependant child of the holder of a work or business visa to change their status in SA, but does not allow the spouse of a South African to submit an application in SA. How can the government afford foreigners more rights and respect for their family units and marriages than its own citizens? The department has an obligation in terms of the Constitution and the preamble to the act to respect the relationship between spouses and their right to dignity as enshrined in section 10 of the Constitution.

This includes the right to form and live as a family unit.

South Africans have a constitutional right to have their spouses (foreign or not) live in SA with them without any interruption whatsoever, so the department needs to resolve this anomaly without delay.

• De Saude is an immigration and citizenship law specialist at De Saude Attorneys

Originally published on Business Day, 8 July 2016.