Visa problems

2008-02-12 00:00

South Africans have been plagued by the inefficiencies of the Department of Home Affairs for years. Law-abiding citizens are inconvenienced while innumerable scams have allowed illegal immigrants into the country almost at will.

Now corruption in the department is likely to have international consequences. Until now, entry of South African passport holders into the United Kingdom has been visa-free — unlike that to the European Union where a Schengen Visa has been required, or to the United States.

However, last month a British trial heard that at least 6 000 illegal Asian immigrants had been smuggled into the UK on South African passports. Clearly corrupt Home Affairs officials have been issuing genuine South African passports to people-smugglers, foreign asylum seekers and, who knows, suspected terrorists wishing to enter Britain.

Obviously the credibility of a South African passport is no longer what it used to be and the almost inevitable result will be that visa requirements will be imposed. This is likely to cost a would-be tourist the best part of R1 000, and will prove particularly inconvenient as there are close cultural ties between the countries, and a substantial minority of South Africans have family members living in Britain.

But it will also impose an enormous bureaucratic strain on British embassies and consulates. Last year 250 000 South Africans visited Britain. That is about 20 000 people per month. With some 20 working days per month, the introduction of visa requirements will require the British authorities to issue an average of 1 000 visas per day. There are bound to be horrendous delays, quite apart from the cost. What will happen if someone has to fly overseas at short notice in an emergency does not bear thinking about.

It is another undesirable consequence of crime in this country, in this case in the bureaucracy itself.

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