Q&A: Visas explained

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South Africa’s visa regulations have been in the spotlight recently, with two changes that have made the Department of Home Affairs rather unpopular with the tourism industry – unabridged birth certificates for travelling minors and in-person biometric visa applications. Robyn Erasmus, Sales and Marketing Manager at Visas & Passports Unlimited, wonders if the frustration is not with the new requirements,  but with the length of time it takes to obtain an unabridged birth certificate from the Department of Home Affairs? She took some time out to answer a few questions for Business Traveller Africa.

Q: What are your thoughts on South Africa’s new visa regulations?
A: There are definitely significant cost implications to the South African tourism industry and potential visitors, who require a visa to visit South Africa. As a visa company that regularly assist clients, these requirements are not foreign to us, as many other countries follow similar regulations, in order for travellers to obtain visas.

Q: What documentation is required for travelling children under the age of 18?
A: All minors need an unabridged birth certificate and a copy of each parent’s passport. If travelling with only one parent, they need to produce an affidavit granting permission from the absent parent for the child to travel or a court order granting full parental responsibilities and legal guardianship for the child. In case a parent is deceased a death certificate is required. If travelling with a guardian, both parents of the child must sign affidavits confirming permission for travel. For an unaccompanied minor, all of the above must be produced, as well as a letter from the person who will receive the child, including full contact details and a certified copy of their passport or ID Documents.

Q: How are these regulations impacting your business?
A: Our core business is visa applications for outbound corporate and leisure travellers. The new regulations has shown no notable impact on our business. Our consultants have been advising our clients to apply in good time, if they require unabridged birth certificates. As expected, there has been some frustration with delays in obtaining the necessary documentation from the DHA.

Q: What has been the response from your clients?
A:
Frequent travellers have familiarised themselves with the new regulations and seem to be coping well. Difficulty arises with those who travel less frequently. The key is to be well informed before embarking on an international trip.

Q: How would you solve the visa debacle?
A:
It is not easily resolvable, but with more dialogue and all the relevant parties working toward one central goal, a more favourable outcome could be achieved. No one department has all the answers; it really needs to be team effort. On a practical level, travellers should plan their trips well in advance, and apply for the relevant documentation as early as possible.

Q: What value can you offer to a business or corporate traveller?
A:
Visas & Passports Unlimited offers a comprehensive corporate visa application solution. We collect and deliver from your offices and offer a “Meet & Greet” service which meets travellers at an embassy that requires in-person appearances and walks them through the process. We will collect the visas and return the passport to the address provided. We load UK, USA, Schengen  and any other embassy applications on your behalf. We pay the visa and lodgement fees, make the appointments and meet the corporate traveller. All this is of great value when time is limited.

Q: How do South African visa regulations compare with other African countries?
A:
The requirements are pretty similar, except for the new rules. Each country has their own rulings and we are not privy to them all.

Q: What’s the most difficult African country to get a visa to?
A: We have experienced Nigeria as being one of the more difficult. Applicants must apply in person each time they require a visa. Applications must be lodged online before an applicant appears in person at the embassy. Some applicants experience difficulty in paying via the online system, as the website requires visa verified credit cards. The embassy takes up to 10 working days to process an application, but delays are often experienced.

Q: What African countries don’t require South Africans to obtain a visa to visit?
A:
Out of the 54 African countries, excluding South Africa, 16 don’t require South African passport holders to obtain a visa for tourism purposes only: Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde, Gabon, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Reunion Island, Seychelles, Swaziland Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. This is subject to change at any time. Certain restrictions may apply for either business travellers or visiting workers to these countries.

Q: What global visa regulations would you like to see changed or cancelled?
A: Personal bank statements submitted for some countries (especially in Europe) for business trips when the employer is covering all expenses. Having standard photo regulations for all countries would help simplify the visa process. Many countries require that a passport be valid for six months from an applicant’s return date to their country. Recommendation would be to reduce it to three months.