Photograph — Finance TIme

In a recent news report, data released by the office of South Africa’s Presidency indicates that the country approved less than half of its visa applications from 2015 to 2021. Notably, South Africa (SA) rejected 52% of critical skills visa applications during this period. The application process, which some applicants have criticised, typically spans approximately 48 weeks, leaving many applicants disappointed after enduring a lengthy wait only to face visa denial.

This prolonged and uncertain timeline has raised concerns, especially among businesses and organisations. One such instance was reported by SA-based media company, BusinessTech, where a prominent business organisation, comprising car giants Volkswagen AG and BMW AG, expressed apprehension. They warned that these extensive delays, lasting up to 48 weeks for a visa application to be accepted, pose a significant threat to their expansion plans, investments, and job creation initiatives in South Africa. This situation is particularly worrisome in a country where the unemployment rate hovers at almost 33%. 

Amidst South Africa’s economy enduring significant economic losses caused by frequent power outages leading, its restrictive visa policies have become another pressing issue. These policies have given rise to a slew of economic challenges. Foreign investors are considering relocating their businesses elsewhere due to the stringent visa regulations imposed by the country.

In a promising turn of events, South Africa’s Tourism Minister, Patricia de Lille, took proactive steps last week. She initiated efforts to relax or eliminate visa requirements specifically for Chinese and Indian nationals, aiming to bolster the influx of visitors from these densely populated nations. This strategic move not only signals a positive shift in the country’s approach but also holds the potential to rejuvenate its tourism industry and foster stronger economic ties with these key global markets.

Strict visa policies jeopardize South Africa’s participation in AFCFTA.

However, South Africa’s stringent visa restrictions not only hinder the country’s economic potential and foreign investments. It creates regional sentiment that can negatively impact its participation in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA). The AFCFTA which aims to create a single market for goods and services across the continent encourages intra-African trade, fosters economic integration, and stimulates economic growth and development. However, SA’s stringent visa restrictions pose challenges for it to capitalise on the advantages of the AfCFTA. 

Consider the strict visa regulations currently in place, which impede the free movement of people across South Africa’s borders. For businesses, this translates to potential delays in establishing crucial contacts, attending conferences, and even negotiating deals. Moreover, these restrictions could foster a perception of exclusion and unfriendliness among neighbouring countries. Such sentiments have the potential to strain diplomatic relations and hamper collaborative efforts in regional initiatives.

Furthermore, if South Africa continues to uphold these stringent visa policies while other countries in the region, like Rwanda, adopt more open and welcoming approaches, the nation risks economic isolation. This contrast in policies could lead to South Africa being left behind, missing out on valuable opportunities for growth and collaboration within the global landscape. 

Last Thursday, Rwanda made a significant announcement, unveiling its decision to grant visa-free entry to all Africans. President Paul Kagame shared this groundbreaking initiative in Kigali, the nation’s capital. In his address, he emphasized the immense potential of Africa as a cohesive and integrated tourism destination. President Kagame revealed during the 23rd Global Summit of the World Travel and Tourism Council that any African could now board a plane to Rwanda at their convenience without incurring an entry fee.

“We should not lose sight of our continental market,” said Kagame. “Africans are the future of global tourism as our middle class continues to grow at a fast pace in the decades to come.” In contrast to South Africa’s economy, the latest move, which poses many economic benefits for the East African country, will see Rwanda rake in more foreign currencies as it becomes the fourth African country to remove travel restrictions for all Africans after Gambia, Benin Republic, and Seychelles.

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