Friday, March 13, 2009

LPoD - South African visitors to the UK

Who says Facebook isn't a learning tool? One of my FB friends, a fellow South African ex-pat, most of whose family is also still back there, posted some information on her page that has become today's learning point.

Essentially, it seems that the UK issued an ultimatum to several countries to tighten up security around the issue of passports (you may remember that I recently posted that during 2007, 6000 Chinese nationals are said to have entered the UK on genuine South African passports obtained 'under the counter' for £5000 each). It seems many of the other countries affected such as Botswana, Brazil, Malaysia, Mauritius, Namibia, Trinidad and Tobago took heed. South Africa, it appears, did not.

As a consequence, all South African nationals will now need a visa to enter the UK - even just for a holiday. Apparently, according to a South African based immigration group called 1st Contact the process of obtaining this visa is cumbersome and lengthy. Also according to 1st Contact,

There is also a newly introduced bio-metric component attached to this new regime. It has been alleged that South Africans will be required to complete a 10 page application form, incur fees anywhere from £ 65 (for holidays Visas) to £ 600 (for business Visas) and then still make their way to VFS (Visa Facilitation Service) office, for finger printing and retina scans. The biometric scans are then sent to the British High commission along with the application to review, before the granting of Visas takes place.
Some of these measures have already been introduced, with the balance expected to be in effect in mid 2009.
Historically South Africa has made up the 5th largest tourist group in Britain. According to an article published in the BBC, in 2007 419 000 South Africans legally visited the UK, comprising of 168 000 tourists and 46 200 business visitors, where over 3000 South Africans were even granted work permits.
It seems the point of these measures is not to curb the number of South African visitors, but to strengthen the UK's borders. However, many South Africans, and other Commonwealth citizens are expressing a different view under their breath. Now that several eastern European countries have joined the EU and their citizens can legally move to the UK without the need for visas, the number of immigrants from these countries has rocketed. Since the UK is powerless to change this, there are those who feel that the UK government is taking what action it can, and that Commonwealth countries are the chosen target. I'm not prepared to make that judgement one way or the other, just yet.

The immediate effect for me is that the cost of these visas is very high when you're paying for them in Rands, currently at a little under ZAR14 to the Pound. This effectively means that the once slim chance that members of my family may be able to visit us in the UK is eradicated. And since we were hoping for a gathering of the clans to mark our elder son's entry to adulthood later this year, this is a heavy blow for me.

My mother has implied that she would be prepared to come over and 'do' for me, should I have to undergo surgery to my neck (which unfortunately seems to be indicated at present), but I suspect that her offer might have to be withdrawn under these circumstances.

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