South African government through its Department of Home Affairs is working to scrap the visas for all African citizens travelling to the country.
However, “trusted travellers” such as diplomats, academics, business people and students will be the only ones to benefit before its open to everyone, News24 reports.
The steps that will be taken towards scrapping visa requirements are reportedly contained in a White Paper on International Migration, which was adopted by the government, but still awaiting public scrutiny and parliament approval.
The government is optimistic that it will pass, and that the changes will take effect by 2018. The move is aimed to adopt the African Union’s Agenda 2063, open visa policy to all African citizens by 2018.
In the White Paper on International Migration several policy changes on visa application rules have reportedly been proposed which include: the creation of processing centers for asylum-seekers along South Africa’s border; the end of an automatic path from long-term residency to citizenship; the introduction of a points-based system intended to attract highly skilled immigrants and the elimination of some visa requirements for African citizens.
Early this year, then Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba (now Finance Minister) told journalists at a conference on international migration in Johannesburg that, “South Africa is committed to freeing movement in a managed way. And we will be looking at what is happening in West Africa, to draw lessons from how West Africa is dealing with this process, and to the extent possible, to begin implementing some of those measures. Because, most certainly, the South African international migration policy must be Afrocentric”.
According to the South African immigration department, in 2016 about 16 million people arrived in South Africa, mostly from Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, Malawi and Botswana and about 23,000 were deported for unspecified immigration reasons.
Many African citizens still face stringent visa restrictions worldwide, and they even require visas to visit their neighbouring countries. It is disconcerting that Europeans, Americans and Asians counterparts frequently travel within Africa more than Africans themselves without the same visa restrictions which often frustrate African citizens.
According to the Africa Visa Openness Index Report launched by the African Development Bank (AfDB), citizens of African countries require visas to travel to 55% of countries within the continent. Within the next two years, however, the implementation of a proposed common visa policy under the African Union’s (AU) 2063 Agenda, a strategic document outlining the vision for African development, could profoundly impact the continent in terms of intra-regional trade, economic development, and regional integration.
Speaking to the East African, the Director of Regional Integration and Trade at the AfDB Moono Mupotola said opening up a country’s visa regime is a quick-win on development as it attracts foreign direct investments and tourism opportunities.
“For Africa to achieve its visa-free status in the next two years, policymakers need to go back to the drawing board and relook at these requirements. It’s the only way to attract talent, investments and opportunities within Africa,” Mr Mupotola told the East African.
Benefits of open visa policy in Africa
The African Union’s Agenda 2063 document aims to achieve the vision of “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena”. One of the agenda’s key elements is the free movement of people across the continent. The free movement of people is possible, and the Agenda 2063 calls for the abolition of all visa requirements within the ten year implementation plan and the creation of an African passport.
The Agenda 2063 document outlines some of the benefits of one-visa-for-Africans. The free movement will increase tourism, employment, trade, direct and indirect investments and infrastructural developments.
Tourism contributes to one in every 11 jobs and 9% of gross domestic product worldwide. With high levels of youth unemployment across the continent, improved tourism could create thousands of jobs and help reduce inequality. More visitors mean higher hotel occupancy rates, improved business for restaurants, shopping malls, and a growth in transport and entertainment sectors. The impact could benefit citizens and businesses in both urban and rural areas.
According to the paper Economics and Emigration: Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk? open borders could lead to a one-time boost in world gross domestic product by about 50-150%. South Africa’s White Paper on International Migration, fully supports the vision of an Africa, where its citizens can move more freely across national borders, where intra-Africa trade is encouraged and there is greater integration and development of the African continent.