Democratic Alliance MP, Adrian Roos, wrote to Tourism Update, sharing specific details pertaining to internal issues delaying South African e-visas, following the article last week highlighting that the long-awaited implementation of South Africa’s e-visa programme has been, and will continue to be, a barrier to tourism growth.

Roos writes:

“On June 2, 2020 the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs was informed that a successful e-visa programme would mean that Home Affairs may no longer require third party visa application services, such as Visa Facilitation Services (VFS). This was dependent on capacity at foreign missions being improved to allow for document fraud detection, investigations, trends analysis and other risk-profiling functions in support of adjudicators.

To give an idea of the extent of this fraud, the Auditor General Foreign Mission Observation Report of March 2018 found that, on average, 50% of visa applications received in Nigeria were fraudulent. This is significant as it causes overwork and perpetual backlogs. Similar concerns on fraudulent applications were highlighted at foreign missions in India. There is no indication that this has been successfully addressed.

Home Affairs, furthermore proposed to extend the contract of the visa application service provider for another 12 months to the end of 2021 on the basis that the development of internal capacity will be expedited. The fact that they need to extend the VFS contract is an indicator that the system is nowhere near ready as opposed to an excuse for non-delivery.

The Department said this would be aligned to the requirements of establishing a Central Adjudication Hub. This hub will efficiently manage turnaround on e-visa applications but if has not yet been established then it will unfortunately be some time before the e-visa system is up and running.

The failure to pilot the e-visa system in India, China and Nigeria by the end of March has been attributed to COVID-related travel embargoes. These three countries comprised 59% of all visa applications through VFS in 2019 and, worryingly, saw a notable 10% drop in visa applications from these three countries in 2018, attributed, amongst others, to a longer turnaround time at the missions.

When you consider that Kenya comprises 7% of visa applications received through VFS, India, China and Nigeria present a much larger challenge in terms of back office and in-country support.

The tourism industry deserves greater transparency on the challenges and timelines of the e-visa system as it grapples with the devastating effects of our prolonged lockdown on tourism. The urgency of the implementation of the e-visa system cannot be overstated, with its potential to significantly boost inbound tourism when our borders open again.”