Visa regulation woes

There has been a lot of noise about the new visa regulations that came into effect about two months ago, but until recently, we had no idea just how much these new rules would cost the SA tourism industry.

As it turns out, it’s a lot. A report by the Tourism Business Council suggests that SA will lose 100 000 tourists a year. That represents a loss to the GDP of R4,1 billion and further, 9300 jobs. That’s a big, bitter pill to swallow, and I’m not sure the bigwigs can continue to ignore the loss of income, even if it means they will look foolish by caving in and dropping the regulations.

Tourists are turning away from our beautiful country because of the requirement that an unabridged birth certificate be produced when you are travelling with a person under the age of 18. Prospective visitors also have to appear in person at a contact centre in their home country to supply biometric data when they apply for

a visa.

I understand why the government has brought in the regulation demanding an unabridged birth certificate for minors. It’s an attempt to cut down on child trafficking, and as a father, I’m 100% for it. Not a week goes by that I don’t read about a child being abducted in a shopping mall or somewhere else, and I support any legislation that makes it harder for criminals to smuggle children out of the country.

It helps that my son was born after SA started issuing unabridged birth certificates, which means I don’t have to go and stand in an endless queue at Home Affairs to get one.

Thinking of queues, my car licence expires early next year and I’m already dreading going to the Randburg licens-ing office – an experience in which any hopes you may have of receiving prompt service soon turn into despair.

I can also understand why the biometric data collection business is a pain, as I currently have a mountain of paperwork on my desk. It’s not for a new car, or a new house, but just for a Schengen visa.

Four years ago, when I got my first Schengen, I did not need to see a Spanish person until the day I arrived there. Now it’s a different story.

You get this all the time when you travel abroad. The guy in front of you will approach the customs desk with a British passport and the official will give it a quick glance and send him on his merry way. You won’t get the same friendly reception when you produce an SA passport…

First off, you’ll get that suspicious look. Then they will start asking questions about where you are going, what you plan to do and when you will be going back to SA. If you’re lucky, that’s it, but more often than not you will be required to present the same paperwork you presented when you applied for your visa. (The officials at Frankfurt airport are the worst I’ve experienced, while the Americans are the friendliest.)

I do think the SA government should be less stringent with international tourists.

They just come here to check out the elephants and are unlikely to stay here as an unwanted guest after his holiday is over. These people are keen to visit SA because of its many attractions, and they have money to spend, so let’s make it as easy as possible for them to do so.

As for my Schengen woes, I realise why the Swiss want to keep an eagle eye on their borders. The idea of spending the rest of my days on the stoep of a small house in a nice green field is a lot more appealing than spending my days in a car stuck in traffic on the N1. At least, that’s what they think is running through our minds when we stand before a customs desk with a hopeful look in our eyes. The truth, however, is the polar opposite.

Fortunately for the Swiss, I really like it in SA. My family is here, the weather’s great and apart from the government trying to convince me that it sucks, thanks to e-tolling, load shedding and fire pools for some, I remain firm in my conviction that this is the best place on planet Earth. – Gerhard Horn