When the new immigration regulations were implemented in 2014, they were met with near-universal condemnation. Parents were outraged at the new requirements for travelling minors, the tourism sector was in a state of near panic as tourist arrivals dwindled thanks to prohibitively onerous legal requirements and investors and businesspeople were left unsure as to what extent their freedom of movement would be impeded. It was an untenable situation.
In response, an interministerial committee was established to develop measures to address some of the main issues. The immediate measures proposed by the committee included:
- Implementing systems to capture biometrics at key ports of entry, with pilot programmes at OR Tambo, King Shaka and Cape Town international airports;
- Introducing an accredited tourism company programme for Brics countries, specifically China, Russia and India;
- 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 highly encouraging. The biometric systems are in place at the three major airports as well as Lanseria, and have been successfully tested. Thanks to this, transit visas are no longer required for persons travelling through these ports of entry. To ease the entry requirements for groups of Chinese travellers, the department of home affairs waived the requirement to have to apply for a port of entry visa in person when traveling in a group — on the condition that the biometric data of such travellers are taken upon arrival and departure from South Africa. Whereas this is largely thanks to the highly regulated Chinese tourism sector, which means tour operators in that country are already accredited by the Chinese government, recognition must go to home affairs for taking such a practical stance.