Starting November 2019, visitors to South Africa will be able to apply for visas online when the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) launches a pilot scheme for the e-visa system.
This will make travel much easier for foreign tourists, as they will be able to apply for their travel documents from the comfort of their homes, which was especially problematic for visitors from India and China.
South Africa has been rolling out much-needed reforms to its visa regime, including visa-free entry for residents of New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, with visa waivers in the pipeline for Ghana, Cuba, and São Tomé and Príncipe. Visa requirements have also been simplified for China and India.
The announcement of the e-visa pilot starting in November was made on Monday to the Presidential Working Committee at the Job Summit by DHA Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi. The summit has prioritised growing tourism numbers as a way to boost the economy and create much-needed jobs in South Africa.
"In November, DHA will embark on a pilot scheme for the issuing of e-visas, which applicants will be able to access online, eliminating the need for applicants to visit South African missions abroad," says Motsoaledi.
He also reported that the DHA has lowered turnaround time for critical work skills visas, which are now issued within four weeks in 88,5% of applications. Business and general work visas are issued within eight weeks in 98% of applications.
“The Department of Home Affairs is constantly reviewing its operations to ensure that we relax entry requirements without compromising our responsibility towards the safety and security of our citizens,” adds Motsoaledi.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has commended the DHA for improving service efficiency while on a walkabout at the department's Tshwane offices. He was shown how the e-visa system works, saying it places South Africa on par with other countries around the world.
He also cautioned the DHA to "not be the home of corruption" which will taint their efforts.
David Frost, CEO of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association, see this the pilot as "huge new" for the industry, especially ahead of the busy December period.
“This effectively removes a massive tourism obstacle. As an industry we need to eliminate as many barriers to inbound tourism as we can in order to grow tourism to South Africa.”
“It’s too soon to tell how this has impacted tourism numbers since the new statistics have yet to be announced, but one only has to look at how tourism numbers decreased from New Zealand in 2017 when visas became mandatory for visitors to South Africa, to be able to ascertain the positive impact the reverse would have,” added Frost.
*Compiled by Gabi Zietsman