DHA rolls out biometric data capturing for all non-citizens at OR Tambo

Cape Town - OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg has advised passengers that systems at the airport operated by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) has changed over to the Biometric system, causing delays on International inbound and outbound passenger processing at the Immigration checkpoints.

The airport posted to their official Facebook page ahead of the change-over on Friday, 1 July, saying that "passengers should be mindful of their connecting flight and adjust accordingly". 

According to DHA spokesperson Mayihlome Tshwete, the biometric systems were initially only implemented for transit travellers at OR Tambo, but was rolled out across all immigration stations at the airport on Friday. 

"The system is now capturing data of all non-citizens coming into the country," Tshwete told Traveller24. 

Delays experienced on Friday, 1 July, and over the weekend, were due to the fact that passengers needed to get used to the "operational functionalities of the biometric data capturing systems", Tshwete says.

He says the operational difficulties were because of delays from both the passengers learning to use the systems, and from the DHA facilitating the change.  

Chris Zweigenthal for Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA) echoes Tshwete's explanation. "The delays were caused by the introduction of the biometric systems at all immigration counters both outgoing and incoming at OR Tambo International Airport," Zweigenthal told Traveller24. 

"The amount of time required to capture biometrics from passengers was longer than expected compared to the normal processing of a passenger through immigration without biometrics.  This longer time caused the backup and delays." 

He says the industry, together with ACSA and the Immigration Department are working together to address the problem.

The Department of Home Affairs announced in November last year that they will be implementing Biometric data collection at various airports in SA as part of a pilot-project. And in December 2015, Minister Malusi Gigaba officially launched the Transit Visa Biometrics System aimed at recording the movement of transit travellers on the Department’s enhanced Movement Control System (eMCS).

Passengers who experienced the delays are upset that no communication was received from the airport or the DHA.

According to Sasha Anne Vieira, who was at the airport at the time of the delays, there was "no communication, and no control".

"I sat for 4 hours in the queue on Friday night. Arrived early and checked in for a boarding at 19:30 and only got through at 20:30... People [were] panicking and needing medical support, elderly woman who lost her husband in the queues. Arguments which got physical. Children got caught up in it all. People missed their flights and your staff were filming us and taking photos and laughing on the other side." 

Zweigenthal says the process should not be at the cost of passengers' travel plans. "It is important to ensure that the process of collecting biometrics is speeded so passengers can proceed through immigration without worries of possibly missing flights," he told Traveller24. 

Despite the delays and frustration, the new biometric data capturing systems places SA on an international travel admin standard. 

The country's new biometric visa capabilities hopes to see the scrapping of transit visas completely, the DHA said in their initial report in December last year. The objective is to capture the biometrics for all travellers upon arrival and departure from the country at all ports of entry.

Tshwete says the delays with the biometric data capturing stations will be sorted out, in order to ensure a smoother travel experience. "You can't not have biometrics, and with the rolling out of these stations at the airport, the DHA is trying to make travel more efficient and convenient to travellers." 

According to Zweigenthal, for AASA,  the association supports the roll out of biometrics, "which is in line with international best practice and will enable more efficient processing of passengers through the borders." 

What to read next on Traveller24

New SA biometric visa capabilities will see the scrapping of transit visas

Mobile biometric innovation could improve SA's visa modernisation programme

Biometric data collection to be implemented at OR Tambo

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