South Africa Revises Visa Rules as Tourism Numbers Decline

South Africa will amend its visa regulations after the numbers of visitors to the country dropped, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said.

The nation will now accept visa requests by post and set up biometric testing at its airports, he told reporters in the capital, Pretoria. Last year, the Home Affairs Ministry introduced rules requiring applications be made in person at embassies, where people’s biometrics would be taken. It also said children had to be accompanied by one natural parent when traveling and that they have a full birth certificate stating the names of both parents.

The number of air passengers under 18 years of age traveling to and from the country fell 50 percent from a year earlier in June and July due to the birth-certificate requirements, which started in June, the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association said on Oct. 1. Having the document to hand was aimed at reducing child trafficking.

“We had to impose the children restrictions due to a Constitutional Court case in 2005, and the various child protection acts,” Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said.

The new regulations mean that children from visa-exempt countries such as the U.K. and the U.S. won’t need those requirements because those were the main target markets for tourists to South Africa.

Projections by the Tourism Business Council of South Africa indicate the rules would reduce the total number of annual foreign tourists by 578,000, or about 6 percent of the 9.5 million foreign tourists that traveled to the country last year.

The cabinet set up an interministerial committee, headed by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, to resolve the issues. Home Affairs will obtain legal advice to guide how it can implement the group’s recommendations, Gigaba said.

“South African tourist numbers, especially from China, were declining from November,” Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom said. 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.”

The revisions will go some way to reversing the decline, Alan Winde, the Western Cape provincial government’s tourism minister, said in an e-mailed statement.

“We have not yet won the battle against these regulations,” he said.

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