August 13 2014 at 06:49am
TWENTY international airlines, including the major players, are calling on Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba to delay enforcing new immigration rules to avert a “disaster” that would affect travellers and harm the economy.
An open letter to Gigaba and the Home Affairs deputy director-general of immigration services, Jackie McKay, follows a call by the travel and tourism industry two months ago to delay for 12 months the new rule requiring children to have an unabridged birth certificate before they may leave or enter the country.
From October 1, airlines will be compelled not to allow on board children for whom unabridged birth certificates cannot be presented.
The industry fully supported measures to protect children and improve border security, the airlines wrote.
However, the department was not ready or equipped to implement its new rules, it was failing to make them adequately known in other parts of the world, and it was ignoring the risk of unintended harm to the economy.
“The Department of Home Affairs is clearly confused and trying to address the right problems with the wrong solutions or the right solutions at the wrong time.”
The airlines are Lufthansa, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic Airways, China Southern, Qatar Airways, Air France, Swiss International, Air New Zealand, Air Madagascar, Air Mauritius, Condor, Egypt Air, Ethiopian, fastjet, FlyAfrica, Jet Airways, KLM, Korongo Airlines, Malawian Airlines, and Rwandair.
Noting that tourism was one of the country’s largest sources of employment, they said a study had estimated that 21 000 jobs and R10 billion in tourism income could be lost as unintended consequences of the regulations.
“The Department of Home Affairs is ignoring the potential economic risk to South Africa.
“More than that, it has admitted there is inadequate infrastructure to facilitate in-person visa applications across the world. It has made false assertions that most other countries require children to travel with unabridged birth certificates and it has a non-existent global communication strategy.”
The airlines appealed to the department to “stop ignoring the numerous organisations” that could help it achieve its goals without threatening South African jobs and disrupting the travel of law-abiding families.
“The global travel community wants to help South Africa avoid a tourism, public relations, economic and political disaster, but the department seems intent on that course.”
Home Affairs spokesman Mayihlome Tshwete said Gigaba was aware of the letter.
It was in “no way constructive”, Tshwete said.
If the airlines were serious about their concerns, they would have contacted Gigaba directly rather than through the media.
“Our door is open for people who want to have serious discussions.”
Gigaba has said the new regulations are intended to protect the country’s economic interests and regulate the influx of “economic migrants” who pose as asylum-seekers.
British Airways spokesman Stephen Forbes said: “While the government has explained the reasons for the regulations our concern is that the consequences may be a decline in particularly leisure travel as holidaymakers switch to destinations where the immigration requirements are less onerous.”
Economic Opportunities MEC Alan Winde has slammed the new regulations as “ludicrous”.
“These regulations turn away investors, job creation and are not in line with the National Development Plan.”
They would have massive consequences for the economy, he said.
The regulations would have a “significantly detrimental impact on the economy of the Western Cape”, particularly the tourism, film and call centre industries.