DA says UK will work with it over visas for SA visitors

2013-09-26 00:00

THE Democratic Alliance (DA) has won the United Kingdom government’s agreement to investigate visa-free travel for South Africans to the UK.

DA MP Tim Harris, shadow minister of finance, said he met Jeremy Browne, Minister of State in the British Home Office, who has committed to working with the DA to move the issue forward in the interest of trade, investment and tourism.

The unusual usurping of protocol had officials at South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs wondering how to handle the situation. By late last night the department’s spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa could not be reached.

Browne’s agreement followed a meeting with Harris at the annual conference of Liberal Democrats in the UK last week.

The Liberal Democrats are the Conservative Party’s minority partner in the British government.

During a meeting with Browne, Harris raised the issue of UK visas for South Africans, introduced in 2009 following security concerns about South African passports.

“During the meeting, the deputy minister agreed to give urgent attention to the reintroduction of visa-free travel by South Africans to Britain.

“He agreed that it was in the interest of trade, investment and tourism,” Harris said yesterday.

He said that the existing visa requirements imposed a significant cost on South Africans travelling to the UK. This is in terms of large visa fees (more than R12 000 for a 10-year visa, and almost R900 for a transit visa), and the time required for the application process and interview.

“All indications are that the security concerns regarding our [South African] passports have been resolved. If there are still problems, Britain must be clear on the nature of such problems, so that this unnecessary costs can fall away,” Harris said.

“The DA has been helping with the process for a long time. Many British politicians are unaware that South Africa is Britain’s sixth largest trade partner and that it is in British interests to change the visa regulations.”

He stressed that the DA is aware of the South African government’s negotiations with British Home Secretary Theresa May with the same goal.

“Our contribution is not in competition with this [negotiation]. All South Africans must co-operate to remove this unnecessary stumbling block,” Harris explained.

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