How SA's visa regime hampers trade, tourism ambitions

How SA's visa regime hampers trade, tourism ambitions

China's top diplomat in South Africa, Ambassador Lin Songtian, on Friday said Pretoria's existing visa and permit laws for non-citizens do not support the country's ambitious drive to double tourist arrivals and attract investors to boost the economy.

"The headache issue for the tourist and investor here ... it's very hard to get a visa to South Africa. His Excellency [President Cyril Ramaphosa] addressed that question last night [during the State Of The Nation Address]," Ambassador Lin said as he addressed journalists at the Cape Town International Convention Centre after the signing ceremony of more than 90 trade agreements. 

"Given the size and scope of China-South Africa cooperation and bilateral trade ... I'm sorry to tell you that you have only three visa officials in China. How can you expect one million tourists to come to South Africa? Only three visa officials in China, and we have long queues to wait for the visa. 

"If it's hard for them [tourists] to get a visa, that means you are refusing them to come. If they cannot come here as tourists, how can they come here as investors? So that question is not difficult, it's a technical issue and I'm happy to be informed that the Honourable Minister of Home Affairs has already taken a decision to send more visa officials to China. I was very happy when I was informed this morning."

Lin said it remains "more difficult for a foreign investor to get a work permit" in South Africa.

"It's difficult for a high-tech company like Huawei ... a leading company of technology in the world. Up to today, they complain to me again and again that they cannot get work permits. In my view, for such a high-tech company like Huawei, or a major investment like the Coega Automobile, it is very important to provide the necessary work permits to some of their key technical and high level management personnel."

Lin said Chinese companies were creating much needed jobs for the South African population but that some of the executives had to be brought from China, a costly exercise for the entities.

Delivering his State of the Nation Address on Thursday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa said South Africa intends to double its tourist arrival to 21 million by 2030. Some of the ways he hopes to achieve this are through the renewal of the country’s brand and the introduction of a world-class visa regime.

“We will make good on our ambition to more than double international tourist arrivals to 21 million by 2030. This will be achieved through the renewal of the country’s brand, introducing a world-class visa regime and a significant focus on Chinese and Indian markets and air arrivals from the rest of our continent,”  said Ramaphosa in Parliament.