Storm over visa letter hinders SA tourism


The Minister of the Interior denied on Sunday that a drop in tourists from abroad is the result of the contents of a leaked circular that his department sent out in December, in which European tourists were referred to as “swallows” or “sun hunters”.

The circular was intended for the Border Management Authority (BMA) and stated that tourists whose visas have expired must leave the country or they will be declared undesirable.

The minister said on Sunday that the storm that the leaked letter sparked was not so much because of the effect it had on tourism, but rather to throw “mud at the department”.

However, the Hospitality Association of South Africa disagrees.

Rosemary Anderson, national chairman of Fedhasa, says that although it was intended for internal use only, the circular has significantly damaged South Africa’s tourism sector.

“The department’s delayed reaction in withdrawing the letter caused numerous negative experiences to be spread across South Africa, which strengthened the perception of South Africa as “unfriendly”.

Motsoaledi says he is aware of reports that since then many foreigners have been turned away at the border, despite having slips proving that they have applied for a renewal of their visas. “I have tried to clear it up in parliament several times.

“This circular was intended to guide officials at the ports and border control on what to do when they encounter nationals of other countries – who fall within certain categories – at the borders.

“These would include individuals who have applied for visa extension, waiver or appeals and have not yet received their outcomes,” he said.

“Rather than guiding anyone, this document unfortunately caused an uproar in the media and with businesses that negatively affected the tourism industry.”

He emphasized that the Department of Home Affairs will not gain anything by destroying the tourism industry – which is considered one of the pillars of the economy.

According to Anderson, the incident not only affected the immediate plans of many international visitors, but also sowed seeds of doubt about South Africa’s transparency as a tourist destination.

“The damage caused by the circular – including forcing individuals to leave and marking them as persona non grata (unwelcome or unacceptable) for a period of time – extends far beyond mere inconvenience.

“It has eroded the essential trust and security that tourists seek when choosing a destination.”

She says the reference to “swallow” was particularly unnecessary.

“These individuals, seeking shelter from the harsh European winters, are not simply tourists, but are economic contributors who invest their time and resources in our local communities and businesses.

“The need for a more accommodating visa policy, one that recognizes the value and potential of such long-term visitors, has never been clearer.”

Proposals for visa regulation improvements

In response to these challenges, Fedhasa proposed several improvements to the framework for. This includes considering the introduction of long-term visas and simplifying the visa extension process.