UPDATE: What travellers need to know about SA's airport e-gates and e-visas pilots

(Photo: iStock)
(Photo: iStock)

When peak holiday periods roll round it is not unusual for Acsa or various airlines to issue a travel advisory warning, about possible congestion and for passengers to arrive or check-in early, as passenger volumes spike.

Certain airports, such as Gauteng’s hub OR Tambo International, have fallen victim to immigration congestion during these busy travel seasons, especially on the arrival immigration processing side, with immigration manpower being an issue the Department of Home Affairs is all too aware of.

READ: SA visa changes: We will not contribute to child trafficking and required travel consent remains for SA children

e-Gates pilots planned for 2019

This makes the e-gates announcement by DHA Minister, Malusi Gigaba on Tuesday highly anticipated.

“We will begin piloting e-Gates at OR Tambo, Cape Town and King Shaka International Airports by 2019,” says Gigaba, who confirmed it would allow returning South African citizens, as well as certain categories of trusted travellers, to be processed electronically rather than having to interact with an immigration officer.

The expected result is an “increase in efficiencies and convenience, and improved facilitation of movement of frequent travellers going through our international airports” Gigaga says it will also create the capacity to service those that still require manual assistance through physical availability of immigration officers.

Who are trusted travellers?

Gigaba also announced pilots related to e-visa and Long term multiple entry visas.

The DHA says in order to further ease movement of travellers, for purposes of tourism, business meetings and academic exchange, it will be introducing long term multiple entry visas for frequent travellers:

  • A three-year multiple entry visa for frequent trusted travellers to South Africa, and
  • A ten-year long term multiple entry visa for business people and academics from Africa.

New Zealand e-Visa pilot to start in 2019

Gigaba stressed that South Africa’s introduction of an e-visa would significantly contribute to easing travel to South Africa. He says the development of e-Visa is at an advanced stage and will be piloted in New Zealand, by April 2019.

This is significant in that South Africa introduced a visa requirement in 2016, after New Zealand restricted travel for SA citizens. The result had seen a 17% drop in travellers to SA from New Zealand in 2017. 

“Once the concerns identified during the pilot phase have been addressed, it will be rolled out in other countries,” he says. These countries have yet to be revealed, 

Travel growth to South Africa hampered by onerous visa application processes includes the world’s fastest growing travel population, the Chinese. While travel for ordinary passport holders between South African and China will still need to apply for a visa, Gigaba confirmed it would be piloting bio-metrics on arrival for Chinese citizens.

“Our agreement with China is based on what has been put on the table by both countries - visa waiver for ordinary passport holders is not on the cards for both countries right now.”

A list of visa exemptions and requirements is available under the Immigration section of the Home Affairs website – Click here for more info.

Six core changes to SA’s visa regime in a nutshell:

Wesgro says the amendments will have a noticeable and positive impact on tourism, trade and investment in the Western Cape and South Africa for a number of reasons. As Cape Town and the Western Cape's Official Tourism, Trade and Investment Promotion Agency it plans to host a visa  stakeholder engagement - to allow for the details of the amendments to be  elaborated upon for Western Cape businesses and to provide support for the  implementation of these changes.

  • Increasing the number of countries that will be  visa exempt,  particularly the Middle East, will help unlock new tourism markets for our province and country, helping boost visitor numbers;
  • The implementation of 3 to 10 year multiple  visas especially for China and India is critical for the growth of our economy, with China boasting the 2nd largest economy in the world and the biggest tourism spend globally, and India ranked the 7th largest economy with a rapidly growing tourism spend - ranked 17th according to UNWTO;
  • Waiving the requirement for visa applications to  be made in person in India and China will significantly increase ease of travel  – travellers wishing to visit South Africa currently have to apply in person often  having to travel great distances to the very few visa application stations in  these large countries;
  • Relaxation of documentary requirements for  minors travelling with foreign nationals – the strict requirements for parental  consent and unabridged birth certificates caused major upsets for bona fide travellers visiting South  Africa with children;
  • The review of the critical skills list and offer  of permanent residence for foreign students studying critical skills degrees is an important measure to ensure that South Africa remains a strong  contender in the global skills economy, and potentially a big boost for our  universities and tertiary education institutions;
  • Steps announced to ease congestion at ports of  entry particularly land ports could have a significant impact  on South Africa’s trade with the rest of Africa and ease of doing business on  the continent; and, implementation of e-visas and e-gates will ease congestion and enhance efficiency at boarders, making South Africa a more attractive destination to visit and do business with.

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