28 October 2016

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this media briefing, meant to share with you the challenges at OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA). For reasons of context, we would like to reflect also on a related matter – the implementation of immigration amendments and regulations.

Capturing of biometrics of travellers

The Department of Home Affairs has a mandate to ensure the effective and secure management of immigration and to facilitate the movement of persons through OR Tambo International Airport as one of its priority ports of entry.

We deal with year on year increases in travellers as far as legitimate movements through this port of entry are concerned. The average number of travellers cleared per month increased from 668 882 in 2015 to 669 621 in 2016.

Despite existing processes being designed to optimally manage the traveller demand, under capacitation remains a critical vulnerability in the management of immigration at the airport, resulting in complaints about lengthy queues and delayed flights.

The total number of immigration counters at OR Tambo International Airport is 87 and even with a 100 % staff attendance not all the counters can be fully staffed. A 100% attendance is not attainable due to normal Human Resource factors.

We are currently managing a four shift system per week reinforcing our day shift to deal with terminals experiencing a high volume of travellers. This still translates into a situation where more than 40% of our immigration counters cannot be operational at peak periods, given limited staff capacity and the need to balance shift operations over a 24hr cycle.

The constraint this imposes on the department has been a subject of substantial media and negative sentiments arising from stakeholders despite the efforts to modernise and advance the integrity of processes at our immigration frontline. We understand it clearly to be in our best interest to excel in facilitating the movement of travellers to enhance the perception of South Africa as a preferred destination.

In December 2015, the department introduced biometric capturing of travellers at four international airports, namely, OR Tambo International Airport, Cape Town International Airport, King Shaka International Airport and Lanseria.

Biometric capturing enhances our capacity to uniquely identify individuals and confirm the identity of travellers with the highest possible degree of certainty, security and efficiency. Although it has increased the processing time per traveller, it remains a key component in order to protect our national security. To improve facilitation, South African Citizens have been automatically exempted from this process.

The facilitation of legal movement by visitors to South Africa from countries abroad entails the issuance of enabling documents such as visas and permits. In this regard, the capturing of biometrics on arrival at the port of entry also assisted with the relaxation of the immigration regulation which had initially required persons from visa required countries to appear in person during the visa application process. This includes facilitating travellers from approximately 1500 Accredited Tourism Companies in China. 

Added benefits included doing away with the requirement for a Transit Visa for travellers using ports of entry that have biometric capacity.

As part of the biometric programme, the department is also in the process of piloting the linking of the movement of a child to an adult on the Movement Control System to ensure our continuous protection of children admitted to and departing from the Republic.

The biometric programme of the department remains a priority and we are committed to a phase in approach.

Further rollout at major (identified) land ports of entry is work in progress and by the end 2016/17 it is projected that at least six high volume ports of entry will be ready to assist travellers arriving from SADC states.

Considering that 90% of all movements at land ports of entry arise from SADC nationals, the introduction of such a capability will have far reaching effects in terms of facilitating traveller movements whilst ensuring that the department has a record of foreign nationals who have entered the Republic.

The true state of efficiency that this technology affords is, however, impeded by the austerity measures imposed on the department by National Treasury, to the effect that no further recruitment of human resource capacity is authorised for the foreseeable future.

In essence, biometric capturing of travellers lays the foundation for Trusted Traveller processes and self-service options through automated gates.

We are continuing stakeholder engagements to improve service delivery at OR Tambo International Airport through partnerships aimed at improved communication, addressing resource requirements and exploring technology solutions to effectively resolve the capacity constraints. 

Implementation of Cabinet concessions

There is progress on the concessions made to ease implementation of the amended immigration legislation and regulations. These concessions were announced by the Inter-Ministerial Committee that was appointed by Cabinet following concerns from stakeholders.

A number of stakeholders including some in the tourism industry have said that there is notable progress on the concessions. The following examples should suffice on the steps taken by Home Affairs over and above what had been recommended by the Inter-Ministerial Committee:

  • Implementation of biometrics capturing at four international airports alluded to above,
  • Signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Home Affairs and National Department of Tourism, in December 2015, on the accreditation of tourism companies,
  • Waiving of the requirement to apply for a port of entry visa in-person for Chinese travellers who are travelling as part of a tour group,
  • Approval of a long-term Multiple Entry Visa for a period exceeding 3 months and up to 3 years for frequent travellers (for business meetings) and business people and academics, 
  • Issuance, by school principals, of letters confirming permission for children to travel on school tours,
  • Facilitation of travel of South African sports teams abroad,
  • Extension of the validity of the parental consent affidavit to 6 months,
  • Replacement of the name “Unabridged Birth Certificate” with “Birth Certificate,” effective 1 November 2016.
  • Introduction of a 10-year multiple entry visa for business and academics from Africa,
  • Introduction of a 10-year visa waiver for business executives from BRICS’ countries,
  • Doing away with the requirement for a Transit Visa for travellers using ports of entry that have biometric capacity,
  • Increasing number of visa facilitation centres, and
  • Activation of process to amend immigration regulations to allow for issuing of a strong advisory for travellers accompanied by minors from countries which are visa-exempt.

We remain committed to strive for higher efficiency with regard to managing migration in the socio-economic and cultural benefit for South Africa, and we will continue to engage stakeholders.

I thank you.


For media enquiries contact Thabo Mokgola on 060 962 4982 or Mayihlome Tshwete