Motsoaledi clarifies allegations on the processing of tourists

Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has clarified allegations that his department is ‘chasing away tourists from South Africa’ following an internal circular that was issued by the department on 21 December 2023.

Briefing media on Sunday in Pre…

Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has clarified allegations that his department is ‘chasing away tourists from South Africa’ following an internal circular that was issued by the department on 21 December 2023.

Briefing media on Sunday in Pretoria, Motsoaledi explained that the circular was directed to the Commissioner of the Border Management Authority (BMA), as well as managers of ports of entry. The circular was also sent to Provincial Inspectorate and Visa Facilitation Centres.

Motsoaledi said the circular was meant to guide BMA officials at the ports of entry on what to do when they encounter nationals of other countries falling within particular categories at the borders. This includes individuals who have applied for visa extensions, waivers or appeals and have not yet received their outcomes – negative or positive.

‘I wish to emphasise that this circular was an internal communications document. It was targeted for Home Affairs and BMA officials, who I have mentioned.

‘Rather than guide any
body, unfortunately this document raised a storm in the media and within establishments that have to do with tourism,’ he said.

The Minister said the Department of Home Affairs was accused of ‘chasing away tourists from the country’, and in the process weakening, and even risking the collapse the tourism industry.

‘One specific group of tourists mentioned in this regard are called ‘Swallows’. These are people who move between the northern and the southern hemisphere in search of sunny days and they are regarded as very important to the tourism industry.

‘I wish to state categorically that the Department of Home Affairs would gain nothing by destroying the tourism industry, which is regarded as one of the pillars of the economy, not only in South Africa but in many other countries,’ he said.

Motsoaledi further explained that the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Tourism always work in partnership on issues of tourism because both departments are important in this regard, and this particular issu
e is no exception.

The Minister said he has contacted Tourism Minister Patricia de Lille to discuss the matter and after this consultation, he tried to clarify the matter in the debate of State of the Nation Address on 14 February 2024.

‘In my input, I did concede that this was a very unfortunate circular, which should not have been issued because the matters it was trying to clarify could have… been addressed in the normal course of operations between BMA and the department.

‘I further clarified this matter on the occasion of the responses to oral questions by the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster (JCPS) during plenary in Parliamentary on 28 February 2024.

‘Judging by the reactions, it appears that my explanation in Parliament was not enough. We arrived at the conclusion that if indeed the circular had the effect of chasing tourists out of the country, we needed to find a way to resolve that. Hence, we needed to check at the borders if there was a significant spike of people who had visited
South Africa as tourists and are leaving. If there was such a spike, we wanted to act in mitigation.

‘In this regard, we reasoned that if tourists are in trouble, their first port of call will be the tourist industry operators and the ministry of tourism. If the industry feels threatened, they will approach the Tourism Ministry. It is with that in mind that we approached Minister De Lille to find out how many people approached her as a consequence of actions emanating from this circular,’ he said.

Motsoaledi said De Lille informed the department that only one case was referred to her department and she immediately contacted the Department of Home Affairs and the matter was resolved to the satisfaction of the individual concerned.

He said they also scouted ports of entry, especially the airports, to see if such individuals were encountered.

‘It was at the Cape Town International Airport where five people are said to have encountered problems because they were declared undesirable due to their overstay in t
he country. We have instructed officials to take steps so that this undesirability status could be lifted without any waste of time,’ he said.

Declaring people ‘undesirable’

Turning to the concept of declaring people undesirable, Motsoaledi said the word ‘undesirable’ is perhaps by itself unfortunate, but it is the term used when the Immigration Act of 2002 was enacted in Parliament.

He explained that in all the ports of entry in and out of South Africa, they have an electronic movement control system (MCS). When people enter the country, the MCS electronically records the date and time of entry.

‘As you would know, your passports and visas indicate the number of days you have been allocated to be in South Africa. If you exceed your allocated days, even by just one day, the MCS at the borders will pick it up, regard it as an overstay, and automatically declare you undesirable.

‘Fortunately, lawmakers in this country also realised that there could be myriad reasons that may cause a person to exceed their
allocated days. Hence in the Act, the legislature empowers the Minister to review and set aside an undesirability status on application by the affected individual if cogent reasons are provided,’ he said.

The Minister explained that when one applies for the extension of their visa before it expires, they are given a receipt, which has a reference number with which they can trace their application.

‘In case your visa expires before the department has responded to your application, that receipt will act as an extension of your visa until such time you get a response, negative or positive. This means that no law enforcement officer, immigration officer or officials at the port of entry may trouble you while you are carrying such a receipt.

‘As I said earlier on, when the circular was issued, it was an attempt to guide BMA officials because they were regarded as new at the borders.

‘If there is anybody who was declared undesirable whilst they were carrying their receipt, they need to present themselves to the
department so that their undesirability status can be removed,’ he said.

The Minister said given that they have identified only one person from the Department of Tourism and five at the Cape Town International Airport, they are not in a position to conclude that these were the only people who were negatively affected by the circular.

‘So today, we are making a call to the people in the industry or any other institution which is in a position to identity such people, so that we can immediately resolve their issues. Up [till now], the accusations directed at Home Affairs are full of generalities, anecdotes and no specific cases were given to us.

‘We are pleading today, that anybody who wants to [make accusations] must please be specific because accusations without providing specific details won’t help the individuals affected…’ Motsoaledi said.

Source: South African Government News Agency