New eVisa system announced at SONA – FEDHASA’s Letter to Minister of Home Affairs

The new eVisa system announced at SONA is not functioning yet and not a true eVisa.

FEDHASA’s has written a letter to the Minister of Home Affairs detailing what is needed in visa reform, in order for the hospitality and tourism sector to create millions of new jobs.

The content of the letter reads as follows:

Dear Honourable Minister Aaron Motsoaledi,

Motivation for swift visa reform to elevate Destination South Africa’s value proposition and enhance its accessibility for inbound international visitors, including remote workers

We write to you on behalf of FEDHASA, the voice of hospitality in South Africa, following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement during SONA 2022 that South Africa would streamline and modernise its visa application process to make it easier to travel to South Africa for tourism, business and work.

The President confirmed, as committed in February 2019 SONA, that an eVisa system had been launched in 14 countries, including China, India, Kenya and Nigeria.

While we are heartened by the focus being given to a critical enabling factor for tourism’s success – that of accessibility – we wish to highlight the urgent need for swift visa reform with a view to enabling the tourism sector to retain and create employment; most critically a review of the aforementioned eVisa system which does not appear functional, nor meets the criteria of a best-of-breed eVisa regime compared to those in competitor destinations. 

The tourism sector has been hard-hit by the global pandemic, with data from the industry, Stats SA and SARS indicating a significant number of business closures and a decline in revenues and employment. It will take an extraordinary effort to increase tourist arrivals, improve its competitiveness as a tourism destination and resuscitate the sector in the aftermath of COVID-19, particularly given intense global competition for reduced tourist numbers over the coming years.

This will require swift implementation of reforms to the visa regime to facilitate greater ease in applying for a visa to travel to South Africa. One such measure would be the establishment of a world-class and fully functional eVisa system implemented as soon as possible and rolled out to all visa requiring countries over time, especially China, India and Nigeria. 

The South African eVisa system should be able to handle large volumes, should be easy to use, and should have limited documentation requirements. In its end state, it should be an intelligence-based system with a very quick turn-around for most visa issuance. And it should, as soon as possible, have interfaces in key languages, particularly mandarin.

Some 30+ countries are considered to have such eVisa systems operating currently, many with turnarounds of a few minutes to a few hours.  In total more than 40 countries claim to have eVisas, but some are simply online application processes which remain almost as onerous as the manual application process (without the requirement to present at an embassy or consulate). 

Visa relaxation linked to job creation and economic growth

Further, there is ample evidence which demonstrates the positive impact of visa relaxation, particularly in studies done by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) and the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) which demonstrated that improving visa processes could generate an additional US$206 billion in tourism receipts and create as many as 5.1 million jobs in three years’ time across the G20 economies.

Countries around the world are engaging in visa facilitation and visa relaxation to encourage growth in tourism. The UNWTO Visa Openness Report 2015 indicates that at the beginning of 2008, destinations requested an average of 77% of the world’s population to apply for a traditional visa prior to departure, this percentage decreased to 61% in 2015. 

It continues: “a total of 54 destinations significantly facilitated the visa process for citizens of 30 or more countries between 2010 and 2015, by changing their visa policies from ‘traditional visa’ to either ‘eVisa’, ‘visa on arrival’ or ‘no visa required’.” Destinations, when reviewing their visa policies, tended to thoroughly review and introduce changes. Out of the 7 421 total improvements between 2010 and 2015, 6 357 were done by those countries that significantly changed their visa policies.

In recognition of China as a key growth market generating significant spend, destinations such as Australia, Britain, France, Thailand, Turkey and the United States introduced targeted measures to ease the travel of Chinese citizens into their countries.

Australia simplified its visa procedures by implementing a “quick review” visa processing service for Chinese travellers in March 2016. In December 2016 a ten-year validity visa for Chinese citizens was launched; the first time that Australia had granted ten-year multiple entry visas for any foreign citizens. Additionally, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection of Australia implemented an online visa application form in Chinese. All these measures have eliminated unnecessary procedures for Chinese visitors to complete the visa application and have stimulated their travel to Australia. Australia received almost 1.4 million Chinese visitors in 2017 seeing an average 18% growth over the two years from 2015.

Since 2012, the Chinese are now the largest international travellers in the world.  There were 155 million international trips by Chinese travellers in 2019 spending US$245 billion in total.

SA (pre-COVID) attracted 96,000 Chinese tourists to SA.  Australia with far fewer offerings attracted 1.4 million. Chinese arrivals peaked at 2016 at 146,000 but declined since then.

On 16 January 2017, a requirement for New Zealanders to have visas to travel to South Africa was introduced and on 1 April 2017 the visa requirement for Russian nationals travelling to South Africa was waived. 

Russian tourist arrivals grew by 51% in 2017 followed by 33.9% in 2018, while New Zealand tourist arrivals declined by -24% in 2017 and continued to decline by -11% in 2018. These growth rates compare to average overseas tourist numbers growing 7.2% in 2017 and a decline in 2018 of -1.5%. There were no other known factors which caused these major trend changes in these two markets and both Russian and New Zealand arrivals had grown similarly by 15% in 2016, which was close to the average overseas arrival growth of 18% in 2016. The only change in 2017 was visa related.

Digital Nomad Tourism

A further quick win, which will have significant rewards with little effort, is the facilitation and growth of Digital Nomad Tourism in South Africa. By positioning South Africa as a destination that welcomes digital nomads, through a favourable visa regime for those earning a foreign income and who wish to work remotely in South Africa, we could grow the hospitality sector by over 1 million beds in a year.

There is a significant body of research data available to indicate that South Africa has already been identified as one of the preferred global destinations for European digital nomads, pending favourable visa regime implementation. For this to become a real possibility, we humbly request your support for a Remote Working Visa, or equivalent thereof.

To attract digital nomad market segment, what is required is a visa regime that provides for touristic stays ranging between six months and a year, for those who can provide proof of the income earned from foreign employment sources.

It is a win-win situation. These foreign working tourists are not intruding on the jobs needed for South Africans but are purely spending the incomes they derive from another country, in our country.

Waiving the requirement for visas and recognition of visas from other countries are also steps which many countries take to facilitate the growth of the tourism industry, and which could be implemented or expanded in South Africa. Unless we address these barriers to access to South Africa, we will not reach our foreign tourism potential.

Tourism (pre-COVID) contributed 8.6% to SA’s GDP and has 1.5 million people employed directly and indirectly in tourism and hospitality.  Contrast this with Thailand (who has far fewer offerings) who’s GDP contributed 21% to their GDP.  You would note that South Africa could literally create millions of new jobs by starting to reach figures that other countries that are already achieving. And thee even without the same depth of tourism value proposition as that offered by South Africa.

We respectfully request that the Department of Home Affairs commence with a swift overhaul of the visa regime and thank you for your intervention in this regard so that we may restore tourism to its rightful place as the second-highest GDP-earner for South Africa as we see global markets reopen to South Africa.

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