Families travelling to and from South Africa will breath a sigh of relief as it’s just been announced that the proposed new immigration legislation regarding children under the age of 18 needing to carry an unabridged birth certificate and written permission (if travelling unaccompanied by one or more parent) has been postponed! The new law was meant to be implemented on 01 October 2014, but has now been delayed until 01 June 2015!
Congratulations to both the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) and the various South African industries which worked together to bring about this postponement. Representatives of the Tourism, Film and Aviation industries rallied for a postponement when it became clear that an introduction of these laws before they were ready to be implemented efficiently could result in chaos and a massive decline in tourism (and the dollars it brings) to South Africa.
Making the announcement in Cape Town today, the Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba thanked those stakeholders who had engaged the DHA “substantively and constructively”. He referred specifically to the Minister of Tourism, Derek Hanekom, and representatives from IATA, ASATA and the South African Tourism Council.
New Task Team
He said after meeting with the various tourism and aviation industry stakeholders that a new joint task team has been formed between the Department and the industry as a “vehicle for ongoing engagement”.
Gigaba said “we are enormously pleased with the establishment of the task team, and trust that its representatives will bring invaluable perspectives and information on the tourism and travel sector, and help us improve communication with their clients and the sector as a whole.”
He also announced that the DHA has continued to engage with representatives of the film industry and soccer fraternity.
Challenges in Implementing Travel Requirements for Children
“The different stakeholders have drawn our attention to the challenges relating to the new requirements for travelling children, which come into effect on October 1st, 2014, which were instituted to ensure the safety of children, in line with the Children’s Act of 2005 and our own international obligations,” he said.
“In particular, the stakeholders have highlighted challenges regarding the requirement that all children entering or exiting South Africa be in possession of a passport, an Unabridged Birth Certificate, and written permission from both parents or guardians of the child, authorizing that child’s travel.
“While the requirement that all children possess a passport has been implemented successfully, challenges have been raised regarding the requirements for the Unabridged Birth Certificate and written permission.
“Stakeholders have alerted us to two main challenges: firstly, of ensuring accurate and timely communication to missions abroad, travel operators, and prospective travellers around the world about the new requirements; and secondly, that parents and those authorised to travel with children have time to obtain the required documentation in time for their travel plans.
“It was put to the Department, that while the new regulations are accepted as necessary and are fully supported, due to these challenges mentioned above, and particularly in light of the upcoming peak travel periods for families – that is, December / January for the festive season and April for Easter – a postponement would greatly assist travellers and the sectors as a whole.
“The Department has taken this input into consideration, along with our obligation to ensure the safety of children entering and exiting the country.
“Having taken all of this into account, we have granted a postponement of these two particular requirements – the Unabridged Birth Certificate and written permission to June 1st 2015.”
Children Born Overseas
The requirements for children to carry an Unabridged Birth Certificate in and out of South Africa applies to ALL children, not just those born in South Africa. The Minister clarified for foreigners that an “Unabridged Birth Certificate is merely a birth certificate from the responsible authority in their country which lists the particulars of the child’s parents.”
He added that “in the instance where this information is contained on the child’s passport, this too shall be acceptable.”
During the postponement period, the security of children will be ensured through other methods.
“Our officials will be on heightened alert, and will use other means, including additional screening, vetting and interviews as necessary, to ensure all travelling children are authorized to do so,” said Gigaba.
In South Africa these regulations only affect those children born between 1996 and 3 March 2013 (when the issuing of an Unabridged Birth Certificate became the norm for new birth registrations). An estimated 17 million children fall into this category, of which 1.1 million have so far been issued with valid SA passports.
The Minister noted that today’s statement was aimed at encouraging citizens to apply well in advance and obtain Unabridged Birth Certificates for children if they intend travelling with them.
The Minister also spoke about the many improvements that had been made by the new regulations, and reported that immigrants to South Africa are enjoying “high quality service and improved turnaround times” at the Visa Facilitation Centres; and claimed that skilled professionals and business people are “enjoying our improved visa regime, including the ability to apply for a critical skills visa before even finding a job, and the consideration of their families as a unit.”
In his statement the Minister also stressed that most elements of the new immigration regulations, which came into effect on May 26th this year, are working well; and pointed out that the new regulations were introduced to “improve our ability to manage immigration effectively, in a way which balances South Africa’s openness to legitimate travellers, as well as developmental and security imperatives.”