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South Africa to introduce biometrics collection at its airports


In a reversal of policy, South Africa will collect visitor biometrics at its airports and accept visa requests by mail, in an effort to reverse a significant drop in the number of tourists over the past year, according to a report by Bloomberg Business.

Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe announced the new revisions to the previous travel restrictions introduced by the Home Affairs Ministry last year, which required applications to be made in person at embassies, where their biometrics were also collected.

Additionally, all children had to be accompanied by one natural parent when traveling, along with carrying a full birth certificate stating the names of both parents.

The birth certificate requirements led to a 50 percent decline in the number of foreign nationals under 18 years of age traveling to and from the country, from a year earlier in June and July, according to the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association.

The Tourism Business Council of South Africa projected that the previous visa rules would reduce the total number of annual foreign tourists by 578,000, or approximately 6 percent of the 9.5 million foreign tourists that visited the country in 2014.

Upon making this realization, the cabinet established an interministerial committee, led by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, to resolve the issues.

Additionally, Home Affairs will receive legal advice on how it can implement the group’s recommendations, said Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba.

The new visa regulations have been largely welcomed by industry role players. Grant Thornton Advisory Services said the revised regulations should streamline the visa application process for foreign tourists to South Africa, and ultimately encourage more travellers to visit the country.

“These changes will most definitely assist in getting the tourism industry back on track,” said Lee-Anne Bac, director of advisory services at Grant Thornton.

In a video interview with Business Day TV, Bac said that country “needs to be welcoming”.

“We’re all competing for the same tourism dollar and the ideal best practice is submit your visa application online, and then when you arrive in countries, submit your biometrics at point of entry,” said Bac. “And that’s…what we’re reading between the lines is what the announcement was made on Friday, saying that we will be moving in that direction, submitting biometrics on arrival…as you arrive in SA, which is the world-class way to go which is fantastic, and that should definitely make things a lot easier.”

“South African tourist numbers, especially from China, were declining from November,” said Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom. “This was “firstly due to the Ebola scare, but then we saw a big dip in June when the visa requirements came into full force.”

Economic Opportunities Minister for the Western Cape, Alan Winde, said in an email statement that the revisions will take some time to reverse the decline of the country’s tourism industry, adding that the country has “not yet won the battle against these regulations”.

In July, Winde emphasized the need to revise South Africa’s new visa regulations and suggested that the country introduce biometric-based e-visas.

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