The contentious issue of the new child visa regulations implemented earlier this month has South African travel and tourism business up in arms.
According to research commissioned by the Business Tourism Council, South Africa’s tourism industry lost R886 million in direct spending, during the last seven months of 2014 as a result of the tough new visa regulations.
(Also read our infographic: All you need to know: New Visa regulations)
While the research claims that the amended to the Section 7 of the South African Immigration Act have affected the local tourism industry and the country’s Gross National Product, the Department of Home Affairs is adamant the new laws are necessary and here to stay, in an effort to prevent child trafficking.
702 presenter John Robbie spoke to Home Affairs Director-General Mkuseli Apleni and CEO of the Business Tourism Council Mmatsatsi Ramawela to further understand the two positions.
Drop in figures not the fault of new child visa laws
The Home Affairs Department says there is a misconception that the decline in South Africa’s tourism figures is due to the new visa regulations. Apleni has called for a full and more in-depth assessment of the tourism industry. Apleni says that beyond economic growth, Home Affairs has an obligation to the Children's Act of 2005.
We are saying that we have got the responsibility as a country to protect our children and anybody who is in the bounds of South Africa. But at the same time, yes, we have a responsibility to make sure that we grow the economy. So we’ve had to find a balance. The key thing for us as Home Affairs is to make sure that we apply ourselves to the law.
SA tourism wasn’t consulted
Ramawela says that there was no consultative process with the tourism industry when the laws were being drafted. He advises that this is the fifth time that the standard operating procedures have changed, which is frustrating the interaction with overseas business partners – who are uninformed about the new policies.
(Also read our article: What you need to know about the law affecting traveling with children)
He says that he would like for there to be engagement between Home Affairs and the tourism industry to determine the most effective and universal way to put the law into practice.
As the tourism industry, we have never said that we are opposed to what government is doing. We appreciate and understand that the government has a tough balancing act – balancing the security needs of South Africa and of our children. But we’re asking, is an unabridged birth certificate a universal document that children have to travel with? It is not.
Not enough awareness
Ramawela adds that there is not enough awareness about the implementation of new regulations. Listener, Max called in to testify to the fact that implementing officers of the legislation do not understand the regulation themselves.
I've just returned from holiday in Aspen, Greece with my two kids. We had the joy of experiencing the new requirement. It’s basically all a farce. Nobody really knows what’s going on; you have different rules according to different officials and the people in other parts of the world don’t even know what they’re looking at.— Caller, Max on his recent travels
For ongoing news on the visa regulation debates, visit the EWN website.
Listen to the full conversation from The John Robbie Show: