NOMPU SIZIBA: The Department of Home Affairs says it’s expediting the visa system in order to make the country more accessible to visitor investors and people with skills that are critical for building the local economy. Calls have been made for the longest time for government to be more efficient in this area.
In his presentation to the monthly presidential working committee yesterday, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, the home affairs minister, said that the department had lowered turnaround times for critical work-skills visas to four weeks in 88.5% of the applications made. Next month the department will be instituting an e-visa pilot scheme, and visa services are being made available in investment facilitation agencies around the country.
Well, to tell us more about what we can expect I’m joined on the line by home affairs minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi. Thanks very much, minister, for joining us on the show. It’s great that you are now expediting visas. You talked about the scarce-skill visa being turned around in a month or so. What are the time frames that you are looking at in terms of turning around visa applications for visitors and investors, broadly speaking? What are your targets, where are you right now, how long does it take right now, and how long do you want it to take going forward?
Dr AARON MOTSOALEDI: Well, we were issuing scarce-skill visas in 12 weeks before. It’s now reduced in 88% of the cases to four weeks.
NOMPU SIZIBA: That’s excellent.
DR AARON MOTSOALEDI: That’s the scarce-skill visas, then the general work visas, we are able to produce them in eight weeks in 97.8% of the cases.
As you have heard, we are also going to run the e-visa, which will take even less time, because you do it online at home, and you don’t have to travel anywhere. You apply online and if it’s okay, you get sent an e-mail and you rush to the airport and produce the e-mail, and then you’ll be able to fly. So it will actually cut the time and all the [problems] people used to experience when applying for visas to the country.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Yes, that’s excellent. So the e-visa pilot system or scheme – how long is that going to tested over, and when are you hoping that it will be rolled out more broadly? What time frame is that set for?
DR AARON MOTSOALEDI: We approached the president on Friday last week. We are going to pilot it from November 1 in Kenya, between us and Kenya. That means for that whole month we will be dealing with Kenya and no other country, because we want to see how it works, where the problems are, what solutions they want, how difficult those problems are, is it beneficial, and so on.
Once we have finished, then we’ll see those countries and well start rolling, bit by bit. But, for now, when we pilot we are going to start with Kenya.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Interesting. I see that you’ve made it much easier for our Brics partners, the likes of China and India, also to be able to get visas.
DR AARON MOTSOALEDI: Yes, these are big countries. We are specifically targeting India, China and Nigeria. The three of them constitute 30% of the world’s population, and yet our staff that is deployed to those offices cannot cope with the number of applications. So, for them, because these are the countries where we still need visas – we didn’t need to give them a visa-free regime – for them we want to increase staffing; even with the e-visa system they still need staff because we don’t know when the e-visa system will reach them. That’s why they need staff.
But, even when the e-visa system has reached them, we still need more staff, and I’ll tell you why. When you apply online for the e-visa, two things can happen. The system can flag you because it has got an in-built risk assessment. It can flag you and say this person is risky, either because you once appeared on the Interpol list, or maybe you once came here to South Africa and overstayed deliberately, and let your document expire, or you did something that is a bit undesirable. So it will flag you.
In that case it won’t follow the normal process of just allowing you to finalise and get an e-mail and all that. It will then instruct you to go to the embassy, unfortunately, or to the consulate, for a face-to-face interview, because you have been flagged. For that reason we still need more people because we don’t know how many people it will flag in any one country. So, when those people are flagged, they still have to find warm bodies that will serve them, rather than their just applying online and directly communicating with us.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Well, that’s positive, then, because people are worried that technology is going to take away jobs, but in this instance it looks as though you are going to need more human support.
So, in a bid to attract investment in tourism, I understand that the South African government has actually waived the need for some nationals to apply for a visa. Which nations are those, and how do you make the decision to exclude some and not others?
DR AARON MOTSOALEDI: That’s a very good question. Every country in the world, when they determine whether to give another country visa-free entry, or when they determine which countries to mark as a visa-free country, they look at several issues. Number one, they look at the sovereignty of the country and the security, because we look at security. Whatever this will do, it must not interfere with the security.
But, secondly, we look at the development and needs of the country – what are my development needs? If I refuse to give them this data, is it them or me who will get hurt economically, or is it me whose economy will be retarded or it theirs?
But lastly, you also look at the stability and safety of the citizens in that particular country, and you are going to make a decision on that basis. One of the things that usually make it difficult, my sister, in that you may find that there are countries where the citizens are not documented anywhere, even within the borders of that country. In South Africa we take it for granted, because everybody gets an ID, whether it’s a dompas during the apartheid years, or the new ID now, the smart ID, or the old green barcoded ID. Whether it’s those identifications or birth certificates or marriage certificates, and so on, we take it for granted that every country is like that. I can assure you, on this continent there are countries where you are born, you get married, you die – and it’s not recorded anywhere.
It’s only recently, five years ago, that a structure called “ID for Africa” has been established, which includes authorisation through the United Nations, the World Bank, the AU. They came together to form what we call ID for Africa to drive this process on giving people IDs. So it becomes difficult to say I’m going to consider cases of difficulty, a visa-free status, when the countries are not even giving you a list of who is the citizen. All those cases are actually taken into consideration.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Minister, before I let you go, there is one last thing. It’s not a visa issue. But one of the complaints around family travel is this whole unabridged birth certificate issue. When is there going to be clarity around that for foreign travellers who want to come here with their families, and go on safari and all the rest of it?
DR AARON MOTSOALEDI: It’s no longer a requirement – that issue.
NOMPU SIZIBA: So, when people are travelling with their children from Germany, from China, from wherever, they didn’t need to carry unabridged birth certificates for their children?
Dr AARON MOTSOALEDI: Not at all. The confusion started because the Department of Home Affairs, or the whole government insisted that we must no longer [do] that. I’m sure you are aware the debate took quite some time, where there was war between the Department of Tourism and the Department of Home Affairs. Eventually they came to an agreement. But, when officials implemented it, they said “it’s no longer a requirement but you must carry it in case you are asked”. In other words, you make a good policy, and reverse in the next sentence.
NOMPU SIZIBA: That’s right.
DR AARON MOTSOALEDI: When that happened, we recognised that, because it was reported to me about two weeks or so ago, because I was wondering. I said this issue was solved – why are people still complaining? Then I discovered that the complaint is lying around that it’s not a requirement, but you must carry it in case – which is basically, logically speaking, still a requirement. So you have to carry it in both.
So we have given the instruction that, look, it’s no longer wanted. You don’t have to carry it, you don’t have to produce it. The argument from Home Affairs was that it was to stop child-trafficking. Then we said no, no let’s not trouble tourists with this. Let’s find our own way of fighting child-trafficking, rather than using this method, which interferes with tourism. There ought be another method to fight child-trafficking, and so that’s where we are at the moment.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Dr Motsoaledi, thank you so much for your time, sir.