Airport official suspended for soliciting unwarranted ‘fines’ for Immigration Regulations non-compliance
An alleged fraudster, who attempted to solicit fines from minors at OR Tambo International Airport claiming that they had the incorrect documents to travel according to the newly implemented Immigration Act, has been suspended following a rapid response by The Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA).
The airport official was said to have approached a group of schoolgirls travelling on a student exchange after they had successfully checked-in and presented all documentation to the airline check-in staff.
The group of schoolgirls were allegedly forced to accompany the official to an ‘interview’ room and were denied access to a female official leaving them traumatised and distressed.
According to the victims, the official claimed that they did not have the correct paperwork to travel and demanded a R500 ‘fine’ be paid before being allowed to depart South Africa. This is despite their documents having been vetted previously by their travel agent and accepted by the airline staff upon check-in as valid.
Upon news reaching their travel agent, the matter was escalated to ASATA, which in turn ensured it was dealt with speedily through the correct channels.
“It is so important that travellers fully understand what their rights are and that this kind of behaviour from an official is unacceptable,” says Otto De Vries, CEO ASATA.
“We would urge members of the public to inform themselves about the full requirements of the Immigration legislation, consult with their ASATA travel agent to ensure they comply, and refer any similar incidents to the Association so that these may be dealt with swiftly and effectively.”
“We simply cannot have situations where the officials in whom we place our trust undermine the process and cause our travellers undue distress,” concludes Otto.
The battle lines have finally been drawn in public between the Departments of Home Affairs and Tourism, and this time the debate is whirling around the job losses that the new immigration regulations will likely cause for the South African economy.
The latest Tourism Business Index of the Tourism Business Council of SA business performance levels indicate that business performance levels across the tourism value chain have dropped from 99.9 points in the first quarter to 83.6 points in the second quarter, the lowest performance level since the third quarter of 2011. The drop is largely due to the impact of new visa regulations on overseas tourists, especially those sourced from China and India. President Zuma promised a review of the regulations in February, but as yet there has been no public announcement of any change to the regulations.
Grant Thornton Advisory Services, cited in the Times, says R1.6bn has already been lost in the first quarter. “This is really a catastrophe — we haven’t experienced this decline in tourism in the past 21 years,” said Lee-Anne Bac, a partner and director at the company. “It’s such an important industry to our economy — it creates jobs, it’s an easy entry for entrepreneurship and it is dominated by small business. It’s a key part of the growth potential of our economy, and we are giving it away to our competitors.”
TBCSA CEO Mmatsatsi Ramawela says: “Hotel rooms are empty, jobs are on the line. The long-term effect will be irreparable for South Africa if we do not come up soon with a solution which both protects South Africa’s security and the industry — it would be devastating.”
This week, the opposition DA called on Home Minister Malusi Gigaba to take heed of the private sector’s concerns regarding the decline in tourist numbers. Beverley Schäfer, DA Western Cape spokesperson on economic opportunities, tourism and agriculture, said: “These [visa] regulations can potentially destroy 22 000 jobs, split families and prevent people from entering SA that could positively contribute to our economy.”
Schäfer is reported have said: “The goal in the National Development Plan (NDP) is to create an additional one million jobs in the tourism sector, which Minister Gigaba has put at risk in his refusal to back down and his department’s recent denial of a negative impact on tourism.”
Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom has also finally added his voice to the furore this week saying he was worried about the impact the regulations were having on the tourism industry. Minister Hanekom said the number of visitors from China had dropped by nearly 40% and the picture for other markets was similar. He also questioned Gigaba’s basis for imposing these regulations during an interview on Radio 702.
Minister Gigaba hit back almost immediately saying he found it “offensive” that the tourism industry was placing profits above children, also criticising Minister Hanekom for going outside normal cabinet procedures.
And so the battle ensues…
The Tourism Business Council of South Africa, of which ASATA is a member association, met with Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom this week to discuss key issues that are impacting the travel and tourism sector in South Africa.
The New Immigration Regulation
Minister Hanekom confirmed he has requested a further 12-month moratorium on the introduction of the unabridged birth certificate. We support Minister Hanekom’s request for a moratorium on the implementation of the legislation regarding unabridged birth certificates, but we wish to see this extended to include the in-person visa requirements. There should be no time limit on the period of the moratorium. Rather, there needs to be a focus on the drivers for the moratorium which include the need for a full review on the Immigration Act, as announced by the President, to be concluded, that true industry input is welcomed and supported and that there is an opportunity to present, and that consideration is given to, global best practice.
The position of ASATA and TBCSA is clear; We want to see the removal of the requirement of unabridged birth certificates for children under the age of 18.
A number of action items where agreed upon on which we will report back in due course. While every effort is being made to have this requirement rescinded, members are reminded that the implementation is expected to proceed 01 June 2015.
ASATA CEO Otto De Vries is heading up the TBCSA’s Immigration Regulations Sub-Committee.
Revised B-BBEE Act
We raised our concern that although the charter has yet to be published the implementation date remains 01 May. The TBCSA subcommittee, of which Otto is a member, is meeting today (10 April) at the ASATA offices to discuss further comment to the re-aligned Tourisms B-BBEE scorecard which is now with the Dti and likely to be published for comment for no more than 60 days within the next week or two.
Our industry’s B-BBEE profile and in particular how our sector may have improved over the years will also be discussed, to support our comments to the Dti.
In June, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba dropped a bombshell on the tourism and travel industries: Anyone travelling from or to South Africa with children under 18 must be in possession of a fully unabridged birth certificate, in addition to a valid passport. Without this, travel will be denied.
Fortunately the initial 1 July implementation date was postponed to 1 October after a veritable outcry from all quarters of the industry.
Industry associations such as the Tourism Business Council of South Africa, Southern African Tourism Services Association and Board of Airline Representatives, as well as ASATA, have banded together and launched a series of initiatives to express their concerns. These include writing to Minister Gigaba and appealing to Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom to intervene, as well as vocal press commentary regarding their concerns about the impact these new immigration regulations could have on the inbound tourism and outbound travel sector. The TBCSA also released a letter that it sent to Minister Gigaba in July regarding the Immigration Regulations. So concerned are they, that they’ve even commissioned Grant Thornton to conduct a study on it. The Ministry of Home Affairs has acknowledged concerns and says it is willing to host discussions.
ASATA CEO Otto de Vries has been quoted prominently throughout the media and even wrote a Business Day Opinion Piece calling for rationality when imposing such regulations. Industry leaders have written personally to Minister Gigaba appealing the regulations and ASATA’s blog post last week further raised concerns following Minister Gigaba’s own acknowledgement of short falls in Home Affairs’ ability to meet their own objectives regarding various amendments to the Immigration Act.
ASATA have been working alongside other partner associations to drive engagement with our industry to ensure better understanding of the issues, practical implications and minimal confusion and disruption to the travelling public and will continue to do so, updating its members on any progress achieved.
Association of Southern African Travel Agents’ response to joint statement by the Department of Home Affairs and Department of Tourism
It is with growing concern that ASATA took note of the recently released joint press statement that was issued 31 July by the Ministers of Tourism and Home Affairs, confirming an implementation date of 1 October, despite acknowledging short falls in the ability of Home Affairs to meet their own objectives regarding various amendments to the Immigration Act.
On behalf of its members and South African travellers, who are now required to apply for unabridged birth certificates to travel internationally with their children under the age of 18, ASATA has repeatedly asked Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba to consider a 12-month deferment of the implantation date and to meet with industry bodies to discuss the impact that this will have on our sectors.
A letter, signed by five of the countries top travel industry leaders, highlighting the concerns of the travel industry and the impact the new ruling would have, was also sent to Minister Gigaba 10 days ago. We have not received acknowledgement of receipt nor our request to meet. Furthermore, a request for assistance in clarifying some of the concerns raised, e.g. “travellers departing before the end of September but arriving back after the 1 October will they (the child) require an unabridged birth certificate?” has been sent to relevant Home Affairs representatives three weeks ago, to which we have yet to receive a response.
Although the Department of Home Affairs has stated a turn-around time of four to eight weeks to issue a new unabridged birth certificate, practice suggests these timelines are closer to between four and six months, depending on which Home Affairs office to apply too.
This and the lack of a clear communication has created a lot of confusion in our industry and for our clients, who are turning to us to assist in providing clarity.
While we stand behind any efforts to secure our borders and to protect our children in all instances, we have yet to see what research has informed government to introduce a requirement to carry an unabridged birth certificate as an additional travel document. Our extensive research has shown that no other country in the world has implemented a similar requirement.
In light of this, we question the effectiveness of this new requirement in meeting the Home Affairs’ objective to reduce child trafficking. A birth certificate is not a recognised travel document anywhere in the world; passports and visa’s serve that purpose, with the necessary process behind acquiring one to ensure that it is fit for that purpose.
Please let us be sure that the policies in place serve that purpose and do not have undue consequences.
Furthermore, we must ask that such an onerous new administrative regulation have an appropriate lead in time and a structured and collective consultative process with the travel and airline industries to avoid the inevitable confusion the premature implementation of said new rules will cause to the travelling public and our industry at large.
We therefore re-assert our call for a 12-month grace period in order to ensure minimal short-term disruption to our industry whilst maintaining the Department of Home Affairs objectives.