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
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 South Africa and its citizens. To this end the Department of Home Affairs had undertaken a risk-based methodology to manage immigration. The purpose of adhering to a risk methodology was to ensure that persons travelling to the country could be profiled well in advance, testing the credibility of travel documentation and running background checks on the listings against national or international stop-lists. Members were given insight into SA’s Immigration Management System which was based on a number of interventions and systems.
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 Angola, came to SA. The percentage from the USA was considerably lower at 0.4%. The United Kingdom was considered an important market to hold onto and the figure sat at 0.8%.
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 Republic of South Africa and its citizens. To this end the Department of Home Affairs had undertaken a risk-based methodology to manage immigration. The key methodology for managing immigration risks was to build a complete history of the visits of all those who visit SA and link this to effective screening of visitors to the RSA even before they leave their country of origin. The frequency of travel may have a determining impact on the extent to which the level of risk was applied. The purpose of adhering to a risk methodology was to ensure that persons travelling to the country could be profiled well in advance, testing the credibility of travel documentation and running background checks on the possible listings against national or international stop-lists. SA’s Immigration Management system was based on a number of interventions and systems. The first of which was the requirement that all non South Africans from non visa exempt countries were required to have a visa or permit to enter and sojourn in SA, that is, the Permit Application System. The SA Government waived the requirement for visas for nationals from certain countries and they were allowed to enter SA without visas. The “onion ring” approach to Immigration Management extended the borders of SA and started in the country of origin of the prospective visitor. In terms of the Permit Application System the risk-based screening by foreign missions constituted the first of the “outer” rings of the onion. Nationals from countries requiring visas and permits to enter and live in the RSA needed to apply for such permits at SA missions in their country of origin. The second system that screened would-be visitors to the RSA, was the Advanced Passenger Profiling System. It enabled Immigration Services to screen all potential travellers, both visa required and visa exempt upon check-in at the port of departure to the RSA. The processing took place as a real time interactive transaction during check-in and was done discreetly in the background without any inconvenience to the passenger. The third intervention was the checking and verification of passports and other travel documents, visas and permits by Airline Liaison Officers stationed at high risk airports around the world. The Airline Liaison Officers played an important role in detecting and combating human smuggling and trafficking. The fourth system was the processing of travellers via a Movement Control System at SA’s airports, seaports and land ports upon arrival. The system used a passport scanning technology that allowed for the scanning and capturing of the travellers’ information, including their photos, which further introduced possibilities of data mining and business intelligence. The Movement Control System had a risk engine which was linked to the Permit Application System, Interpol’s list of stolen and fraudulent passports, immigration, police and the watch lists other security agencies. The fifth intervention was compliance monitoring by the Immigration Services Inspectorate Divisions within the country.
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 United Kingdom, France, Australia, Brazil and Namibia. From a tourism point of view as far as business partnering was concerned, Nigeria, India, China and Angola had been identified as being important. Due to security considerations SA had not entered into visa waiver engagements with these countries. SA did however grant 2-3 multiple entry visas to frequent travellers from Nigeria, China, India and Angola who visit SA.
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 Angola, 14.6% of the total came to SA. The percentage from the USA was considerably lower at 0.4%. The United Kingdom was considered an important market to hold onto and the figure sat at 0.8%.
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 UK spend sat at R5bn. The average Chinese visitor also spent quite a bit at R20 800. Mr Tharage felt that markets like Australia and Canada should be nurtured as both countries had many ex South Africans living in them which meant that the prospect of them visiting SA regularly was quite high.
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 Cape Town area.
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 Lesotho. The Committee together with the Home Affairs Portfolio Committee had undertaken an oversight visit to those places and had observed a horrifying state of affairs. At the Lesotho border people and livestock were freely crossing the border into SA and at times crossed over to and fro.
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 Lesotho border posts had been rectified. The feeling was that the DHA’s introduction of transit visas would not prevent organised crime from taking place in SA. She asked why persons from India and China were granted extended visas. The DHA was making it easier for persons to enter SA. She felt that SA had its fair share of problems relating to crime and unemployment etc. At airports persons often passed through customs unchecked. She asked if the problem had been rectified.
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. Qatar and Bahrain had a great deal to offer SA economically. She hoped that the training of Home Affairs officials had improved so that they were better able to detect fraudulent documents. A newspaper article had recently made mention of a Ghanaian national that had equipment in his possession that could easily produce falsified identity documents, visas, passports and even driver’s licences. Officials should be able to identify false documents. The DHA briefing document contained useful and detailed narrative but the Committee would have found it useful to have some statistics on the work done by the Department. The DHA had undertaken to register all Zimbabweans. She pointed out that in her constituency Zimbabweans were evading the police so as not to be registered.
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 Oman, Bahrain and Egypt. SA was waiting on these countries to report back. The issue was a priority for the DHA. The DHA did not want to be a stumbling block for visitors wishing to visit SA. The visa waiver was one such effort to make things easier. The Department of Tourism would lead the DHA about existing and potential markets. Jointly the Departments would look at ways of relaxing visa requirements. However a balance had to be found between relaxing visa requirements and security. The DHA was guided by its risk based methodology. Long-term visas were only granted to frequent travellers who had good track records. These were people who visited and left when they should. Many were businessmen. Long-term visas were not granted to anyone. Long-term multiple entry visas were for people who were bona fide visitors. He pointed out that the person arrested was not a Ghanaian national but a Ugandan national. Over the past year three to four individuals had been caught. DHA officials were able to pick up fraudulent documents. The DHA was involved in a pilot project with banks to counter fraud. It was hoped that the project would be rolled out soon. The project utilised live capture verification at banks. Fingerprints captured at banks would be directly linked to the DHA for verification.
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 Swaziland border. Swazi nationals often crossed the border to access SA schools and hospitals. Some even drew SA pensions. The locals in the area did not appreciate what the Swazi nationals were doing. He pointed out that the problem was that soldiers and the police allowed such practices to continue. At some point such practices needed to stop. SA could not support the entire African continent. Home Affairs could not always be blamed. SA taxpayers’ contributions could only go so far.
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.