Lukanyo Mnyanda.
Lukanyo Mnyanda.
Image: Freddy Mavundla

Much has been written about South Africa’s immigration laws, in particular the regulations about travelling with children, and the resultant cost to the economy.

Many readers, including this writer, will already have spent a fair amount of time and money ensuring they have all the proper documents in place, lest they be forced to cancel their school-holiday travel plans. But the details of the saga are worth repeating.

Three years ago, publications including the UK’s Financial Times (FT) were reporting about a drop in tourism arrivals dragging down what it described as a bright spot in an otherwise struggling economy.

Although the outbreak of the ebola virus in West Africa the previous year was cited as a factor, the widely held view among experts was that the tightening of visa rules was having a huge effect, with the Southern African Tourism Services Association saying the new regulations had “decimated” arrivals from China.

The FT also quoted accounting firm Grant Thornton, which estimated that the drop in tourism arrivals in the first quarter of 2015 equated to an “unprecedented” loss of 150,000 visitors.

The first blow in the new rules was the requirement that travellers apply for visas personally at consulates, so that their biometric data could be captured. In geographically huge countries such as China, that immediately cut off millions of potential visitors who live far from big cities.

And then came stringent regulations for travelling with children, which require unabridged certificates for minors. This move was apparently aimed at preventing child trafficking.

Could an argument be made that the economic price is worth paying if the policy keeps children from harm?

South Africans who travel to other countries with their children will rightly be wondering when our country developed such a big problem with trafficking that it decided to be a world leader on this particular issue. Travelling with children to a number of European countries in recent years, I never encountered this regulation.

With such a wide choice of places to visit, it should be no surprise that potential travellers would choose to go elsewhere, inflicting unnecessary harm to a sector that employs more people than utilities and mining put together.

Could an argument be made that the economic price is worth paying if the policy keeps children from harm? My personal experience during the past holidays would indicate otherwise. My two children, who are definitely younger than 18 years, managed to travel all the way from Edinburgh to Johannesburg — and back — without a single official asking to see the documents.

Just imagine: we create this bureaucratic impediment — forcing those people who think our world-famous natural beauty is worth it to go through all the extra expense and hassle to get here — and then we don’t even bother to check for the documents. That just adds insult to injury.

- From the September edition of Wanted magazine.

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