South Africa’s tourism sector is said to be suffering due to bureaucratic challenges. Image: Pixabay

Visitors to SA have four weeks left to renew visas

Visitors to SA may have to leave the country by the end of February if their visa renewals are not processed in time.


South Africa’s tourism sector is said to be suffering due to bureaucratic challenges. Image: Pixabay

A directive from the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) issued in December has raised concerns about potential economic losses for South Africa, particularly in the Western Cape, due to visa processing delays.

The directive indicates that short-term visitors seeking to extend their 90-day visas may be required to leave the country by 29 February if their visa renewals are not processed by 23 February.

Visa backlog

The backlog in visa applications at the DHA has implications for investment and tourism revenue, with South Africa facing the possibility of losing billions of rands.

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Referred to as ‘swallows,’ individuals, including property and business investors, migrate to South Africa to escape the winter in the northern hemisphere.

Many of them are granted automatic 90-day visas on arrival, which can be extended for an additional 90 days.

The directive states that those visitors who received their 90-day visas on or before 30 November 2023 and do not receive a renewal by 23 February must make arrangements to depart from South Africa by 29 February 2024 to avoid being declared “undesirable”.

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Those appealing denied long-term visas have until 30 June 2024 to leave the country, with the option to leave and re-enter before the specified date without the risk of being declared undesirable.

Individuals awaiting decisions on long-term visa applications are allowed to stay until 30 June 2024.

Impact on tourism

Tourism officials in the Western Cape are expressing concerns about the potential impact on seasonal tourism revenue and are actively engaging with the DHA to address the visa backlog.

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Tourism consultants have emphasised the economic value of 90-day extensions, as they bring additional high-spending semi-residents into the country, and have suggested streamlining the process by granting an automatic 180-day visa on arrival.

South Africa introduced an e-visa system in February 2022 for travelers from 14 countries, that allows them to apply online and receive their visas via email within a few days.

Eligible countries for e-visas are Cameroon, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, India, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Uganda.

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There are plans to expand the list to include Australia, Canada, the US and the EU, but until that happens, visitors from these countries must continue applying for visas through South African embassies.

The DHA has been lambasted by human rights and immigration layers, who have called the state-owned entity “dysfunctional”.

The way in which the DHA has handled immigration and exemption permits for Zimbabwe and Lesotho citizens in particular has been critisised.

Cape Town was recently voted the second-best city in the world. The tourism sector says that this “free advertising” is being squandered by the DHA’s inability to handle applications that smaller countries with few resources are able to process.