Airlines lash out at SA’s new immigration laws

2014-08-12 13:57

The international airline industry in South Africa appears to have abandoned any pretence at diplomacy, hitting back at tough immigration laws recently introduced by the department of home affairs in an open letter.

According to the letter, which was penned by Simon Newton-Smith, the Middle East and Africa boss of Virgin Atlantic Airways, the regulations were a “tourism, public relations, economic and political disaster” which would cost the country 21 000 jobs and up to R10 billion a year in lost tourist income.

Virgin is an airline majority owned by celebrity entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.

The letter was written by Newton-Smith on behalf of a number of airlines. It was addressed to Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba and his deputy director general responsible for immigration, Jackie McKay.

Home Affairs recently introduced controversial immigration regulations which came into effect in May, requiring the use of unabridged birth certificates for people under the age of 18 entering or leaving South Africa, among other things.

There was an immediate backlash from the tourism sector that led to a meeting with Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom.

The two departments issued a joint statement clarifying this piece of legislation was aimed at combating human trafficking, and that the department of home affairs would address misunderstandings surrounding the interpretation of the birth certificate through a communication programme.

The open letter highlighted the international airline community’s unhappiness with the birth certificate requirement.

It was written on behalf of 20 airlines, including Air France, Rwandair and Qatar Airlines.

“Passenger safety and security is the number one priority of the international airline community and any measures to protect children and improve border security has the full support of the industry,” wrote Newton-Smith.

“However, as is, the department of home affairs is clearly confused and trying to address the right problems with the wrong solutions or the right solutions at the wrong time.”

Newton-Smith said the airlines had asked for a 12-month delay for implementing the birth certificate clause, but had not received a response.

The letter also hit out at the department’s inadequate infrastructure for in-person visa applications around the world, and said its assertions that most other countries require children to travel with unabridged birth certificates were false.

“It is clear that the department of home affairs is not ready for its own rules and is happy for South Africa to pay the price.”

Home Affairs spokesperson Mayihlome Tshwete had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

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