South Africa to lure Indian tourists by faster visa process: Minister

New Delhi, July 9 (IANS) South Africa is keen to employ latest information technology (IT) and other facilities to hasten the visa issuance process to attract more Indian tourists and businesses to the country, a visiting minister has said.

South African Minister of Home Affairs M. Gigaba said his country is keen and ready to cater to more Indian tourists and businesses.

“India is a fast growing economy and South Africa is ready to partner with it. We are ready to serve more Indian businesses and welcome more Indian tourists to South Africa,” the minister told IANS at the South African High Commission here.

“South Africa has the best of infrastructure, best of facilities for business in the whole of Africa. It can cater to Indian businesses which are looking at entering the African continent. The country also has abundant natural resources.”

According to the minister, as a member of the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), South Africa has provided to Indian businessmen the facility to obtain a 10-year multiple entry visa.

“We have provided the 10-year multiple entry business visas. We are also looking at employing latest IT technologies that can ease the visa facilitation process and allow faster processing of visas for tourists and businessmen,” the minister explained.

The South African minister is in India to meet his counterpart, Rajnath Singh, to discuss bilateral issues and the new visa policy between the two countries.

Currently, India is the third largest market in Asia, and seventh globally, for South Africa. The changes in the new visa policy are expected to have a major effect on tourism and on business growth in both the countries.

“We expect the number of Indian visitors to South Africa to grow. But even if it dips in the first year of the new regulations on visa norms being implemented, it won’t be a major concern. People take time to adjust to the new policy and norms,” the minister said.

“The reason behind the new visa regulations is to have a secure system in which no one is allowed to abuse the South African visa and immigration policies. This is to enhance safety, stop trafficking, and promote trust in travellers when they come to South Africa,” he said.

The minister also pointed out the various security threats emanating out of a loose visa system, like travel on false documents, child trafficking and promotion of illegal trades.

The South African government has come under criticism over its new immigration regulations, which came into effect from October 1, 2014.

The new rules require tourists to appear “in person” during the visa application process in order to obtain a biometric visa.

There is also the requirement for all children under the age of 18, travelling to and from South Africa, to carry the copy of an unabridged birth certificate in addition to their passport and visa. This regulation came into force from June 1, 2015.

Observers say the problem with the new system arose due to the lack of infrastructure to process the new set of data in visa applications.

However, the minister claims that the new infrastructure has been created especially in India, where the number of visa facilitation centres has grown from two to 11, and that more can be added if and when required.

“We will provide more facilities, more staff, and use new technologies to process the applications faster as and when the demand requires. I will be visiting the facilitation centres here in India and see them function,” the minister said.

In 2013, 128,179 Indian tourists visited South Africa, while the number dropped to 117,511 in 2014.

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