OR Tambo airport Joburg lobby

South Africa is harming its Economy with recent Visa regime changes

Since May 2014, the process of applying for a visa to visit South Africa has unfortunately become extremely agonizing for many Africans. The Jacob Zuma led administration has systematically kept many Africans away from visiting the country under the guise of improving security for South Africans.

Supporters of these policy changes are quick to mention the perceived benefit of protecting jobs for locals. This narrative needs to be combated because it is based on misconceptions. As Dr. Zaheera Jinnah, a researcher at the Johannesburg based African Centre for Migration and Society opines, “The idea that people are here ‘stealing’ jobs and that they don’t have a right to be here needs to be corrected.”

In an article about recent changes to immigration policies in the UK, I wrote that UK citizens grossly overestimate the number of immigrants in the country, with an average estimate of about 31%; this is a drastic departure from the actual figures, which reflect that immigrants in the UK are about 13% of the population. The same seems to go for South Africans. The Migrating for Work Research Consortium (MiWORC) reported, “82% of the working population aged 15 to 64 were non-migrants and just 4% could be classed as international migrants”.

Like the British, South Africans have based their distrust of immigrants and their territorial protectionist tendencies on fallacy. The perceived number of immigrants in South Africa is not the only false concept that is popular. The notion that they kick locals out of their jobs and dominate the informal sector is also incorrect. Empirical evidence shows that many immigrants in South Africa routinely work in positions considered as “unstable” and “precarious” with no access to formal employment documentation.

This development has negative implications for the economy of South Africa. The South African Tourism Services Association (SATAS) reports that air ticket sales to South Africa are already down by 32% from last year and blames this entirely on recent policy developments. Air China has also cancelled a planned direct route from China to South Africa due to recent developments.

Cape Town International Airport
Above: Cape Town International Airport, the arrival point for many international visitors to South Africa

The implications of these changes to the visa regime do not only bring negative economic consequences; South Africa may very well be losing the goodwill of other Africans. In response to previous South Africa’s visa regime changes, Kenya responded with strict conditions, which only targeted South Africans travelling into and transiting through the Country. This has led to a tug of war between both nations that will only hurt travelers, whether they be tourists, business professionals, or entrepreneurs.

In July, Kenyan Senator Mutahi Kagwe proposed that African countries take action against South Africa, including “moving the Pan-African Parliament from there as a protest against the harsh treatment meted at the embassies”. In his words “If South Africa does not change its attitude towards African nations, we must move the Pan-African Parliament to either Kenya or Ethiopia. We cannot stand the harassment at the South African embassy. We can move that Parliament to a country where Africans can travel with respect and dignity”

It seems easier for many Africans to travel to Europe and North America than to South Africa. I have never been denied visas to countries in Europe and North America but I have been denied a visa to visit South Africa. This keeps out potential tourists and others looking to do business in South Africa. A study commissioned by the Tourism Business Council of South Africa indicates that the country may lose 270,000 international tourists and in turn result in 21 000 jobs lost annually and inadvertently cost South Africa R9,7 billion. That is a huge loss and it is in South Africa’s best interest to review its visa regime.

Olumayowa OkediranThis article was written by Olumayowa Okediran, Policy Analyst at Ineng. Based in Nigeria, Olumayowa is a socio-economic and political commentator, nonprofit consultant and entrepreneur.  Olumayowa’s articles and views on politics and economics have appeared in The Huffington Post, Nigerian Tribune, The Nation Newspaper, Libre Afrique and World Review and his articles have been translated into French, Spanish and Portuguese. In 2013 he founded African Students For Liberty and is a co-author of the book Why Liberty: Your Life, Your Choices, Your Future.

This article forms part of Ineng’s Free Skies program, focusing on issues relating to aviation and travel in South Africa and Africa.

Free Skies - Ineng