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HELL AFFAIRS

Spooked tourists say SA visa fiasco has chased them away

Spooked tourists say SA visa fiasco has chased them away
Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi. (Photo: EPA / Georg Hochmuth)

In one case, a woman was banned from the country even though she showed border management officials her VFS receipt for a visa extension.

Despite what Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi thinks he told the nation about visa renewals for tourists, the message does not appear to have sunk in with visitors – or border officials.

At least one tourist has already been banned from South Africa despite applying for a visa renewal and presenting the receipt to Border Management Authority (BMA) officials. 

Others don’t know whether to leave the country before their visas expire, saying they can’t rely on media reports quoting Motsoaledi as saying their receipts for visa renewals will fend off deportation.

On 18 February, Daily Maverick reported that tourists wanting to extend their stay in South Africa beyond 90 days still had time to apply for a visa extension. This was after Motsoaledi told Parliament that those with a receipt proving their application was being processed would not be declared undesirable.

The Home Affairs minister’s comments came after almost three weeks of silence following a Daily Maverick report that a leaked departmental directive had instructed BMA officials that tourists who hadn’t received their visa renewals by 23 February had to leave South Africa by the end of this month or risk being declared “undesirable”.

The directive, published on 21 December 2023, told officials that tourists in the country on short-term visas for 90 days, up to and including 30 November 2023, who had applied for a visa renewal but had not yet received an outcome by 23 February 2024, had to leave South Africa by 29 February to avoid being declared undesirable.

‘Strict instructions’

The BMA was said to be under strict instructions to enforce the directive, which was of particular concern to “swallows” or sun-chasers, who visit countries like South Africa during the Northern Hemisphere winter to enjoy endless summers. Here, they are accustomed to maximising their stays by extending their visas for a further 90 days.

South Africa grants short-term visas on arrival to several countries and territories, including Canada and the European Union. During this time, visitors can apply for an extension, but the department lacks the ability to process applications within a reasonable time.

Motsoaledi said during the debate on the State of the Nation Address: “We are being accused of chasing tourists out of South Africa. Fortunately, I have had an opportunity to have a heart-to-heart discussion with my colleague in tourism, Minister (Patricia) de Lille.”

He claimed the circular was an internal document, issued to guide new BMA officials at ports of entry, and was not for public consumption, but “we concede that there was no need to advise anybody to leave the country on a particular day because such dates are already stipulated on the visa.”

Motsoaledi then said if tourists had applied for a visa extension but had not yet received a response, their receipt was proof of an extension of their visa until they learnt the outcome. 

“No one should arrest you while you have such a receipt, and no one can declare you undesirable.”

On 15 February, De Lille told SAfm that tourists who had already applied for visa extensions could stay until they had an outcome, and those who had yet to do so, could also still apply. 

“So, the current position is that all the tourists that have applied for visa extension, if they are in possession of a receipt that they have applied, it’s [the memo] not applicable to them.”

This is playing out differently in the real world. 

Confusion

Sherwin Kendall, who signed off as “confused tourist”, writes that he applied for a renewal on 1 November 2023 but has not yet received an update. 

“The DHA circular dated 2/12/2023 and statements attributed to the Minister of Home Affairs and the Minister of Tourism by the Daily Maverick have left me confused regarding what exactly I must do in this situation. Can someone, anyone, advise regarding the ‘official’ position of the Ministry of Home Affairs on whether being in possession of a receipt of application for a short-term visa extension, allows me to remain in South Africa until a renewal outcome is received without being declared undesirable?”

Kendall copied his note to numerous Home Affairs officials and VFS staff, but there was no response. He called associated numbers (provided by VFS) that were never answered. Kendall also visited the Randburg Home Affairs office, which was unable to advise.

“I was told that this matter is not handled by their office and that they could not give me any status or clarification.”

Another tourist told Daily Maverick that since they were entitled to dual citizenship, they had hoped to apply for a South African passport to avoid the risk of not receiving their visa renewal by the end of the month. Fearing the SA passport application would be cumbersome, they decided to leave the country on 26 February.

In another case, a woman was banned in December, despite applying for her visa extension well in time.

A Russian tourist had arrived in South Africa on 31 July 2023, applied for a visa extension soon after, and was told to wait for an outcome, which she did, overstaying her three-month visa. 

By 11 December, the extension had still not been granted, so when she left SA to attend to a family emergency, she was declared undesirable at the border and banned for five years.

Daily Maverick contacted Motsoaledi’s office to request an official statement to bring certainty. However, his spokesperson, Thabo Mokgola, insisted that what Motsoaledi had told Parliament during the Sona debate was sufficient.

“Please refer to the minister’s speech during the Sona debate on the matter.”

When pressed further, he repeated: “The matter is being addressed in the speech.”

De Lille’s office merely said they had been working with the Department of Home Affairs to streamline the visa process.

“Where there are issues, Minister De Lille works with Minister Motsoaledi to resolve this.”

‘Pernicious incompetence’ 

David Frost, the CEO of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa), blames the Department of Home Affairs for the fiasco, saying Satsa has asked for an official document, but nothing has been forthcoming.

“Both the Tourism Minister and the private sector have been trying to get a formal response but none has been forthcoming. We can’t advise people because we have no locus standi in the matter. 

“And what is appalling is despite the Ministry of Tourism being in direct contact and essentially begging for a statement, none has been forthcoming.”

Frost says Home Affairs’ approach to the visa issue is “absolute incompetence of the most pernicious kind” because if the ministry cared about tourists and the impact of the fiasco, he would have responded to the issue immediately after it had first been reported. 

“He didn’t. He should have issued an official communique so that we could communicate far and wide so that people wouldn’t be at odds and ends and cancelling holidays and not knowing what to do. It shows utter contempt for the issue at hand.

“A wise man said you must never assume malice when incompetence will suffice, but I’m beginning to think that Home Affairs is a horrible combination of both.”

Frost says SA is left eating the dust of international competitors because it can’t process visas efficiently.

“In 2013, we reached our limit of 150,000 arrivals from China. The Aussies were at 700,000. What happened in the next six years is that the Aussies doubled their arrivals from China to 1.4 million. We go backwards to 95,000, simply because Home Affairs can’t do their job. 

“The same with India: the Aussies go from 112,000 to 400,000 and we go backwards to 95,000. The two biggest and fastest growing outbound markets in the world. And we’re members of BRICS.”

‘Utterly broken visa regime’

Mireille Wenger, the Western Cape’s Finance and Economic Opportunities Minister, has expressed similar concerns. She wrote an open letter on 5 February saying that visiting “swallows” should be warmly welcomed, not coldly kicked out of South Africa. 

Wenger wrote that while SA was a destination in demand that enjoyed a record-breaking December, “I’m conflicted because I also feel a deep sense of frustration, anger and despair at the regular reports of an utterly broken visa regime, and unjustifiably long visa-processing times that plague thousands of visitors who wish to spend time and forex in South Africa”.

She said public servants have a responsibility to do all they can to build a future where our immigration policies and practices support and enable the imperative to grow a thriving national economy. 

“But right now, our opportunities to do so are at risk of fluttering away.”

Wenger told Daily Maverick on Tuesday that it was a stated objective of the national government to encourage tourists to stay longer, increase their spending and therefore contribute even more to economic growth and job creation in South Africa. 

“We have hoped that this objective, with which we completely agree, would be prioritised. We know that more tourists spending more time in the country means more jobs. 

“The national ministers of Home Affairs and Tourism must ensure that the confusion and harm done by the ‘directive’ are urgently cleared up before any more economic and job-killing damage is done.”

Stats SA’s latest tourism and migration data, released on 27 February, shows overseas tourists constituted 20.1% (195,423) of all visitors — 48.1% of whom came from the UK (40,517), Germany (31,072) and just 22,447 from the US. The bulk of our visitors come from the SADC region.

Frost says it is unlikely that SA will be able to double the numbers from North America and Europe, but India and China have the greatest potential for growth. 

De Lille has previously called for a visa waiver for both these markets and said plans were in place to translate the e-visa website and expedite the application process for Chinese visitors.

  • Subsequent to this article being published, VFS Global said it would like to clarify that its role is limited to scheduling appointments, acceptance of applications, enrolling biometrics, acceptance of fees, submission of applications to the Department of Home Affairs and returning the outcomes to the applicant. The adjudication of the permit applications is done by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA). VFS Global has no role in the decision-making process, availability of appointment slots nor the duration of the application processing encountered by applicants, the organisation said. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ludovici DIVES says:

    Ramaphosa’s obvious appetite for for incompetent ministers is insatiable.

  • Ben Harper says:

    Well there you go, Auntie Pat is in charge, no wonder it’s a disaster

  • Rob Fisher says:

    My son and his Dutch wife fly out on the 6th March. Mostly thanks to this shitshow of visa applications. We give thanks to the wonderful ANC for all they do for us!
    Never mind we will soon have an independant Western Cape which will welcome all foreign tourists to Cape Town airport. Maybe they will be able to see the rest of South Africa at the same time?

    • Middle aged Mike says:

      My father’s really successful airbnb in Cape Town just had two more cancellations of long term bookings from regular guests from Europe. Real consequences in the form of job losses and economic harm are going to result from this and and I refuse to believe that pure incompetence is sufficient to explain the actions of Ramaphos’a hand picked minions. I have no doubt that dropping a turd on the tourism industry in the WC is at least in part a motivation.

    • michael bridgens says:

      sorry Rob but this notion of an independent Cape Town is just that, a notion. It really is not going to happen; I have to break it to you in this harsh way, and I am sorry for that.

  • Ex Safer says:

    Evisa processing failure is another fiasco. Am aware of several cancelled trips to SA due to this. My wife’s application was turned down. We won’t be back – will travel elsewhere.

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    Power corrupts, and encourages blind incompetence-in both health and hime affairs matters. The World’s best paid civil servants are glaring examples of both! Viva the home affairs department !

  • Michael Thomlinson says:

    I think this is a direct consequence of cadre deployment. Unqualified people in high positions unable to do their jobs and at the same time uncaring and arrogant. What one must also note is how extraordinarily difficult it is for foreign nationals to obtain permenent residency and citizenship in SA. We have neighbors who are from Ireland and have lived here for 8 years. After an ongoing battle with the DOH they have finally given up and are going back to Ireland. These are people that generate business, bring in money from overseas and pay taxes – go figure.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    Cannot Motsoaledi be deployed to a rural outpost as a Healthcare worker….. in charge of nothing!

  • jennifer slutzkin says:

    and yet the millions of illegals from all over Africa get to stay forever……not generating any income for the country….

  • Lynda Tyrer says:

    You cannot keep your comment civil when you read this sort of article chasing away tourists who bring in millions a month to the economy is one of the dumbest things this anc govt has done I did not think they could lower the bar further first driving away investments, then driving away industries, then chasing away skills desperately needed , now tourists. They are completely oblivious to their destruction.

  • Hans Van Der Veen says:

    “A wise man said you must never assume malice when incompetence will suffice, but I’m beginning to think that Home Affairs is a horrible combination of both.”🙃

  • John Patson says:

    The answer is for immigration to pay for subscriptions to the Daily Maverick for officers on the border, so they know what is going on.
    Oh sorry, you will have to pay at least three ANC members in charge of “tenders” to do that…

  • Donald bemax says:

    The good Doctor should go back to dispensing pills…..idiot.

  • Hilary Morris says:

    If we had a hunded rand for every time “plans are in place” we would be SO rich we wouldn’t know what to do with the money!

  • Rae Earl says:

    Motsoaledi, Mantashe, Cele, Mashatile, De Lille, Mbalula, Ramaphosa. What a bunch! South Africa is racing to failed-state status if this lot remains in power after the elections in May.

  • Metharam Dr Haresh says:

    Home affairs department has always been inefficient and unless we privatise the entire
    Visa approval system nothing will change. It appears that people in the department are not interested in building the economy and alleviating the unemployment issues.
    Youth are languishing in poverty and turning to crime and drug abuse where as the
    Government is only making false promises which have never materialised thus far.
    Tourism is our main forex earning sector and these people are destroying this.
    It’s a tragedy. Dr Haresh

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    Bar the big shoes, spinny bow ties and red noses this crew have all the requisites for a world class operation.

  • Henry Coppens says:

    Again, whether by design, sloth, incompetence, criminality this sort of ineptitude pays neatly into the hands of the ANC’s NDR, which seeks to collapse or take over private enterprise, and create an elite that can do as it pleases without accountability. Because tourism is essentialy driven by the private sector, what better way to further the aims of the NDR.

  • Soil Merchant says:

    Aaron and Patricia, or Wilhelm and Hans?

  • Vic Mash says:

    Every country has laws for everything, some stricter than others, but they should be followed, failure to do that, then you pay the price. South Africa is no exception, thank you minister for your hard work, close your ears for colonisers commenting below..

  • William Stucke says:

    > Stats SA’s latest tourism and migration data, released on 27 February, shows overseas tourists constituted 20.1% (195,423) of all visitors — 48.1% of whom came from the UK (40,517), Germany (31,072) and just 22,447 from the US.

    None of those three countries, nor any Western European countries are listed as qualifying for an eVisa. How very helpful!

  • William Stucke says:

    Countries that actually want tourists make it easy to extend your visa. For example, it takes me about an hour, in person, and a small fee to extend my visa for another 90 days in Grenada.

    A country that, incidentally, isn’t even listed on the DHA’s Visa exemption list, although many other Caribbean countries are.

  • Ana Hill says:

    It is very sad that Home Affairs has neglected to send a memo to border officials clarifying the concession sent to them on 21 December. I have written to Mrs De Lille yesterday asking her to assist with obtaining such a memo. Sadly I have not received a reply. Maybe other readers could also do this and give some voice and power to that request.

  • Grant S says:

    Yet another government department bursting at the seams with incompetence. More people on the tax payers payroll (job creation apparently) doing less work than ever. Another example of a dwindling skills pool not being able to carry the load of those that are just there to collect a pay check.

  • Dianne Gilmore says:

    Let’s get the facts on the table. The number of visitors who applied for an extension visa that hasn’t arrived on time is tiny (compared to the total number of visitors). The real reason why foreigners decided to go elsewhere, is because of loadshedding, nonstop crime throughout the country while the ruling party is only interested in holding onto power for as long as possible. Facts. Read the international news media — they are reporting on the terrible situation in SA more than SA does.

    • michael bridgens says:

      some examples of this international media please, and I mean that sincerely

    • Rob Fisher says:

      Since none of us mere mortals have access to the numbers of visa applicants and how long it takes (or forever), I can only report what I personally know as a fact.
      We have a good South African friend (an attorney) whose has been married for 10 years to an American citizen (also a lawyer – who worked at SARS). Every year he has to fly out to the USA to get a spousal visa extension, for 10 years and they can’t process a visa here.
      My South African son married a Dutch girl and now they have a baby here. They have to fly out every 6 months (with the baby) to get a visa extension (now every 3 months).
      I’m sure there are thousands of cases like this, not just the tourists who can choose where to go.

  • Erika Bostock says:

    My best friend from Comoros was going to visit me again in December, as she has done every year since 2018. This year the DHA decided not to grant her a visa on account of one or both of us not having sufficient funds, despite her intending to bring in more money for a 10-day stay with me than is the minimum monthly wage here, and her intending to arrive the day before my payday and my bonus payment, which are evident in the documents we had to provide for her visa application. It cost her the equivalent of R20 000 to change her ticket. Comoros is in the top ten poorest countries in the world, according to GDP. It’s unlikely that she’ll try and visit again, so instead I’ll take my Rands to buy Euros and visit her in Comoros instead. Nice outflow of foreign currency if everyone else does this

  • Dave Barnes says:

    Unbelievable. Another ANC mess, another opportunity lost!

  • virginia crawford says:

    This happened to a friend of mine in 2015 – a day over resulted in a one year ban. They’ve never returned- the attitude of the officials was very unpleasant. Ludicrous when criminality is rife across our porous land borders.

  • Just Me says:

    After 30 years of porous borders, lax control, ANC corruption at Home Affairs, suddenly in election year it’s a higher priority.

    Its quite easy to find and deport the 10million illegal immigrants in SA.

  • Marc Caldwell says:

    Is the ANC government’s problem that tourists mostly visit DA country?

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    Just another stuff-up. What do YOU think of the ANC?

    A standard visa should be for 6 Months. SA will make millions!

  • Peter Doble says:

    This was a pre-election sop to the xenophobic mob – Operation Dudula. Everything the ANC does is calculated – it doesn’t give a monkeys about tourism, European visitors or the side effects on the Cape.

    • Gxobinjasambe Mntungwa says:

      Yea you right they will score alot of own goals trying to please alot of uneducated fools who don’t understand basic things about the economy,time for the anc to go

  • David Pennington says:

    Typical floppy attitudes

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