South Africa

Another massive own-goal for South Africa

As remote workers explode onto the travel scene, South Africa has again been left in the dust thanks to the government dragging its feet to shift the country’s visa regime.

According to the City of Cape Town, South Africa is missing a significant opportunity to boost tourism and the economy after Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi stated that ‘there are no plans to implement a digital nomad visa’ and there also appears to be little progress on the existing eVisa programme.

“This complicated and outdated visa programme is preventing our tourism industry from realising its full potential,” the city said.

According to the latest Tourism Sentiment Index, global sentiment for tourist activities in South Africa has increased, with the country now ranked 16th in the world.

South Africa was named one of the top spots worldwide for its natural beauty and experiences, as a festival and events destination, and for its restaurant scene. The country also took the number one spot as a wine destination.

“The Tourism Sentiment Index proves that there is a thirst for South African travel. If, however, our visa system is not revised and improved, we stand to lose out to destinations with less arduous administrative platforms,” the city said.

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According to one report of an incentive programme in Oklahoma in the USA, digital nomads generated nearly $20 million (approximately R346 million) in additional local gross domestic product. With a special visa, South Africa can realise such gains, the City of Cape Town said.

The city has put forward a proposal to the South African National Government to amend Section 11 of the Immigration Act, which relates to an extension of visas beyond 90 days for specific activities.

The city suggested the amended Act include the following requirements:

  • An applicant must provide evidence of employment abroad, as well as a sufficient income from such employment or own business registered abroad;
  • Prohibit the applicant’s work activities in South Africa;
  • Allow the applicant’s dependants to accompany them on application.

“If South Africa were to implement such strategies, we could indeed create a tourism-related job in every home in the country. Whether you’re in aviation, boat-building, hospitality, retail, design, or clean energy, tourism relates to your work because it brings clients to your door,” it said.

Backlog

The Department of Home Affairs said last week (9 December) that it is sitting with a massive visa backlog of over 56,000 applications, which it says will only be cleared by the middle of 2024.

Responding to a written parliamentary Q&A, Motsoaledi said that his department still needs to process 56,543 visas.

He said that the turnaround times for visas differ depending on which visa is being processed. It usually takes 4 to 10 weeks to process critical skills visas, he said, while business and general work visas take 8 to 14 weeks.

“The department envisages to have cleared the current backlog by June 2024 for all categories of visas,” he said.

Visa applications and processing have become a veritable nightmare for businesses in South Africa looking to hire specialists and critical skills needed for operations.

Companies have run into frustrating hurdles with these visa types over the last few months as the department dithered with systems and shifted processes around. Businesses have described getting the necessary visas for foreign workers in the country as a nightmare.

The issue of digital nomad visas, or expanding the eVisa system, has been raised before, and simply shrugged off by the government.

Despite president Cyril Ramaphosa promising to look into such visas in his 2022 State of the Nation Address, the Department of Home Affairs has made no headway in implementing them.

Motsoaledi has on several occasions simply stated that the country’s laws make no provisions for remote work visas, and, as such, there are no plans to implement them.

“The current visa categories are legislated by the Immigration Act No. 13 of 2002. In its current form, the Immigration Act does not make provision for digital nomad eVisa. Therefore, there are no plans to implement a digital nomad e-visa,” he said.

Read: South Africa announces new visa exemptions

Artmotion S.Africa

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