S. Africans unite against potentially catastrophic new visa laws

Proposed new immigration regulations have not only upset South African expats whose foreign partners and children may be affected by the new laws…but have caused even greater outrage at home, with experts predicting widespread consequences and that the biggest casualties of these new restrictions will be local industries and the very people in South Africa who the laws are meant to protect.

Avengers, Age of Ultron filming in Johannesburg
International film Avengers, Age of Ultron, was filmed earlier this year in Johannesburg. Source: comicbookmovie.com Photo: Zepo

The main point of contention is the introduction of biometric visas which require visitors to South Africa to apply for their visa in person (in order to have their photograph and ten fingerprints digitally taken).

This therefore means an additional and unnecessary travel expense for overseas visitors who do not live near South African embassies, consulates and visa centres…or, even worse,  for those who live in countries without these facilities at all!

According to a study (commissioned by the Tourism and Business Council of SA) on the impact of the new immigration regulations, the country may lose 270,000 international tourists and consequently lose 21,000 jobs annually – costing South Africa R9.7 billion!

Tourism currently supports one in every 12 jobs in SA.

Despite the outcry, the government has continued to defend their planned introduction of these regulations requiring biometric visas for visitors to South Africa.

Not only will this be a blow for tourism, but for another of our ‘big’ and most beautiful industries – the television and Movie industry.

The situation is quite complex, however the bottom line is that the changes that have been made make it very difficult for international commercial and photographic stills clients to enter South Africa and work here legally too.

Foreign models, who are a vital part of talent offering to clients, are also negatively affected by the situation as they too will struggle to meet the new requirements.

The Commercial Producers Association (CPA), the South African Association of Stills Producers (SAASP) and National Association of Model Agencies (NAMA) have met with the Department of Home Affairs and have exhausted all efforts to get them to respond positively to their concerns.

As they have taken the Department to task, so they have stopped responding to them!

This is not only a film industry problem – many of us may have seen in the media that Home Affairs are refusing to change their policy despite warnings from various sectors that the new requirements could prove catastrophic for the South African economy.

While most people welcome improvements to the policies, the concern is that the infrastructure is not yet set up to efficiently and quickly process applications.  Some groups are calling for the delay in the implementation of these laws until the embassies are ready to handle applications swiftly, while others recommend an e-visa system (whereby people pay online for a visa rather than having to go to an application centre in person) and for fingerprints to be captured at the ports of entry – as is the case in some other countries – rather than during the application process.

South African tourist attraction Table Mountain
Experts warn that visitors to our shores could drop dramatically with the introduction of these new visa laws. Photo: Nonceba Singiswa

Home Affairs have agreed to meet with 20 airlines who have co-signed a letter raising concerns and warning that the new legislation will create a “tourism, PR, economic and political disaster”…but Home Affairs have made it clear this meeting is only taking place because it was requested and that changes are unlikely.

In recent times, South Africa’s film industry had been drawing an increasing number of foreign film producers to our shores, with government incentives and the country’s diverse landscapes making South Africa one of the world’s most attractive film locations.

But this could all come to an end with the introduction of these new visas. What this could mean for the TV and Movie industry is that if clients can no longer come to work in South Africa legally, they will stop coming – the risks of entering South Africa illegally are simply too great.

Lily Allen, Air Balloon filmed in South Africa
Lily Allen filmed her single Air Balloon in South Africa earlier this year. She may not have done so had the new regulations been in place. Pic: Vimeo

And this is already happening…

Every day now we hear reports of clients who are opting to shoot in other countries because they simply can’t be bothered to go through the hassle of trying to comply with South Africa’s new regulations.

Every business and person who earns a living in this industry will be negatively affected by this loss of work.

Malusi Gigaba, South Africa's Minister of Home Affairs since 26 May 2014.
Malusi Gigaba, South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs since 26 May 2014.

In the worst case scenario we could even see a collapse of the service industry in South Africa – the situation is very serious indeed and with the Big Season, which hits Cape Town for summer just around the corner, urgent action is needed if it is to be reversed.

The Democratic Alliance has created a petition, addressed to SA’s Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba and Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom, objecting to the new regulations, and recommending electronic visas (which have already been proven successful in Turkey) as an alternative.

Another route being taken by the CPA, SAASP and NAMA – who have exhausted all other avenues – is to legally petition the Department of Home Affairs. Should Home Affairs not respond favourably the matter will go to the High Court where they are confident of a positive outcome.

Unfortunately this process is very expensive and they are therefore calling on all companies and individuals with a stake in the TV and movie industry to contribute to a fund through which they hope to raise R1-million by the end of September. (In just a few days they are already past the halfway mark with R541,600 already raised.)

This money will be used to fund the legal challenge, as well as a media campaign designed to increase the pressure on Home Affairs. Although R1-million may seem like a lot of money it pales into insignificance against what the industry stands to lose if nothing is done – let alone to other sectors of business in South Africa.

Ironically the solution is relatively straightforward as no change to the current legislation is required. Home Affairs just need to agree to make the procedures involved easier and more accessible for our industry.

MORE INFO

To donate to the Film Industry Legal Fund:

http://cpasa.tv/fif/fundraising

To sign the Petition for Government to Change Visa Regulations:

http://www.change.org/p/malusi-gigaba-petition-government-to-change-visa-regulations

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I’m one of those odd people who, despite travelling the world, hasn’t actually moved all that far. I’m living in the house I pretty much grew up in and doubt that I’ll ever really leave it! Like most people who live in ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’, I have a love/hate relationship with the city. The thing I hate the most are the obnoxious drivers who litter our road, so if you’re ever in my hood and you’re confronted with a blonde who stops to point out you're in the wrong, steer clear.… I love that we have so many trees (and if one more person points out that, hey, like, shoo wow, we have the largest man-made forest in the world here, I’ll throw up on myself!) and that so many people are getting into the groove and getting not only indigenous but endemic – after all, I’m a serious gardener…

3 COMMENTS

  1. Not only are electronic visas so much easier and practical but to make tourism complicated and stop influx of jobs as from the film and fashion industry, is going back in time and making this country go poorer! it’s every country’s dream to became the location for any, if only one film! look at New Zealand how they celebrated in the streets because The Hobbits was going to be filmed there!
    I heard that Clare Danes was stopped at the airport when she came in to the country to film Homeland, now because of that they are NOT going to film season 5 here. can you imagine how many people just lost their jobs for next year? How much money this country just lost in Production costs and salaries? that is just one TV show! imagine movies and other major productions. Without mentioning the fact that all this Movies, TV shows and the fashion industry creates more publicity for the country and makes more money in tourism! which also means more work and more jobs!!!

  2. Has ANYONE had any luck with an overstay appeal? My partner was deemed undesirable after traveling on an expired visa but with a receipt from home affairs for his residency application. We filed June 27 and have not heard anything! I call ALL the numbers and leave messages repeatedly. So frustrated! Have retained a lawyer but cannot do anything until govt works internal appeal process. Does the govt really not want someone with a Masters degree in Education?? Is this how South Africa does business now @HomeAffairsSA

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