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Storm brewing over tough South Africa visa rules

Updated: 2014-12-21 13:16
By Liu Hongjie (China Daily Africa)

Minister defends program, but nation's tourism industry says it will hurt business

South Africans must assist Chinese businesspeople who are experiencing visa problems in the African nation, said a representative of South African business leaders at a bilateral forum on Dec 5.

Patrice Motsepe, chairman of the BRICS Business Council chapter in South Africa, told the South Africa-China Business Forum that South Africa's new visa policy, which came into effect on May 26, has created a number of problems for Chinese. He compared the headaches it has caused with the relative efficiency of the US' new 10-year visa plan for Chinese tourists and businesspeople that was announced last month.

 Storm brewing over tough South Africa visa rules

South African President Jacob Zuma speaks at the South Africa-China Business Forum in Beijing on Dec 5. Provided to China Daily

Under South Africa's new visa policy, people from a host of countries that include China who wish to travel to the country are required to apply for a visa in person.

Parents traveling with children under the age of 18 are required to produce an unabridged birth certificate for each child. In the case where only one parent is traveling with the child, consent in the form of an affidavit from the other parent registered is required. Alternatively, either a court order granting full parental responsibilities and rights or a death certificate of the other parent must be produced.

For Chinese travelers, the requirement of applying for the new South African visa in person has been troublesome. Only the South African embassy in Beijing and the Consulate General Office in Shanghai may accept visa applications in China. For a Chinese citizen who lives in the westernmost Chinese city of Kashi, the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, he or she must fly more than 4,000 km to Beijing to apply for a visa.

The regulations have been criticized by businesspeople from around the world, specifically the in-person visa application rule.

Motsepe, founder and executive chairman of African Rainbow Minerals, and 100-plus African businesspeople were in China along with South African President Jacob Zuma during his state visit from Dec 3 to 6.

Motsepe says the South Africa Business Council will hold a meeting with Chinese officials and business leaders before the end of the year to discuss how to remedy the updated visa policy.

The Board of Airline Representatives South Africa has warned that the new regulations will cost the country 6.8 billion rand ($6 billion) in lost tourism. Based on 2013 numbers, 536,000 foreign visitors could be denied travel.

South Africa is now the only country mandating that children travel with an unabridged birth certificate, causing confusion and disruption to tourists and air travelers globally, the board says.

In response to the criticism, Malusi Gigaba, South Africa's minister of home affairs, said on May 29 that the national government has "not only tested it in both the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, but has consulted senior counsel to ascertain the constitutionality of both the legislation and its regulations".

"If anybody feels that they must challenge the constitutionality of these regulations, they are most welcome to approach the Constitutional Court," he was quoted as saying.

Two months later, he reiterated that the new regulations were constitutional.

"We are willing to engage with anybody who has concerns about the implementation. There are things in the immigration legislation which cannot be up for discussion," he said in Johannesburg on July 14.

He stressed last month that the regulations would not be overturned.

Gigaba's spokesman Mayihlome Tshwete said there had been ample opportunity for public discussion on the draft regulations.

"This policy has been in the making for quite some time now. It is a bit odd that now that it is implemented, people are saying it is going to break the back of tourism in South Africa. We differ with that fundamentally. Even the assumptions made by Grant Thornton are highly speculative."

David Frost, CEO of the Southern African Tourism Services Association, has warned that the new regulations could severely impact tourism, especially from emerging markets like China and India, where there are only two centers per country that can process biometric visa applications.

The Economic and Commercial Counselor's Office at the Chinese embassy in South Africa said on its website that the Minister of the Interior of South Africa set up a working group to investigate the impact of the new visa policy for the South African economy. The survey showed that the new policy would cause the tourism industry to suffer heavy losses, resulting in nearly 100,000 in job losses and about 2.4 billion rand in lost revenue.

According to Statistics South Africa, tourism employs almost 600,000 South Africans and contributes almost 90 billion rand to the country's GDP.

Under the new rules it will take more than eight weeks to process the business visa or work visa application. Companies wishing to travel to South Africa must now approach the country's Department of Labor in their home country. A recommendation is then issued to the South African Department of Home Affairs, which will process the application.

In an article published on Oct 21 in South Africa's national daily newspaper Business Day, Jamie Robertson, CEO of Odgers Berndtson Sub-Saharan Africa, wrote that the Department of Home Affairs appears to be sending a message that South Africa has no interest in creating a business-friendly environment.

Robertson said uncertainty is the biggest issue for many multinationals and corporations seeking to fill top positions with the skills they need.

"Corporations will have legal recourse but most likely they will move their head offices to countries with less severe restrictions. Already multinationals are moving their administrative functions, for example, to countries such as Mauritius and Dubai for tax reasons and because it is easier to do business there.

"We seem to have forgotten that we are an emerging market economy and our biggest focus should be on drawing in foreign direct investment, which includes executive skills, to create much-needed employment to grow our economy."

Motsepe says, "it is important for South Africans to express our continuous commitment to make sure that South Africa is a wonderful place for Chinese people to do business and that their partnership and joint investment in South Africa grow steadily. We want to make sure that the huge growth potential for business between our two countries comes true."

Motsepe says he hopes Chinese businesspeople eventually get free access to South Africa.

Motsepe, 52, was named South Africa's richest man in 2012, topping the Sunday Times' annual rich list with an estimated fortune of 20.07 billion rand. In 2013, he joined The Giving Pledge, whose members commit to give half of their wealth to charitable causes.

liuhongjie@chinadaily.com.cn

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