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Compulsory Visas for South Africans as UK Immigration Rules Become Wider

Feb 13, 2009, 5:28 AM | Article By: Alhagie Mbye,The Point's - UK correspondent

The South African High Commission in London has confirmed to the Point the current new visa requirement for South Africans travelling to the United Kingdom. Following the announcement few hours ago, this correspondent contacted the South African High Commissioner who referred and facilitated his enquiries to the Media Department.

After formality checks were provided to the Media Department, a full version of the United Kingdom government's statement was also made available for further details.

Now the Point can confirm that the new UK Immigration rulesĀ are further widened and in accordance with the United Kingdom government's plans, South Africans will henceforth be required to obtain visas to visit the country. However at the moment certain African countries still did not require visas to travel to the United Kingdom.

The Home Office believed that under the new plan, it would be able to close a route 'exploited by smugglers, illegal immigrants and terror suspects'.

The statement dated Monday 9 February 2009, and signed by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Jacqui Smith, revealed that she was announcing the 'final outcomes of the UK's first global review of its visa regimes'.

The statement amongst others said: 'Britain thrives as a society and economy which is open for business, education, culture and tourism to people from around the world, but we want to do that in a way that enables us to distinguish clearly and effectively legitimate from illegitimate travellers'.

Therefore it added: "We are completing some of the biggest ever changes to strengthen Britain's border security by implementing a system of triple checks: stronger overseas checks including fingerprint visas and wider pre-arrival screening; tougher checks at the UK border itself; and strong new measures within the UK: against illegal immigration, organised crime and other threats".

The Home Secretary also revealed in the government's statement that 'even where a visa regime is the final outcome, we have improved co-operation on migration matters with the countries concerned'. The statement further revealed: 'We will not be introducing new visa requirements at this time for certain countries involves in the final stage of the Test: Botswana, Brazil, Malaysia, Mauritius, Namibia, and Trinidad & Tobago. We will continue to work with these countries on migration matters and assess the effectiveness of the actions taken'. Nonetheless the statement also added: 'Should circumstances warrant it, we will re-examine the situation and take prompt action'.

Mentioning South Africa, the statement disclosed: 'In the case of South Africa, we will introduce the visa requirement in two stages.

The first stage, beginning on 3 March, will require only first time visitors to the UK from South Africa to obtain a visa.

Those who can show a satisfactory previous travel history to the UK will initially be exempt from the visa requirement. This exemption must be evidenced by a UK entry stamp in their current passport. We will introduce the full visa regime by the middle of 2009'.

Implementation for all these countries will be by the middle of 2009 and the government will announce the final dates at least 21 days before imposition. According to the statement all the new visa regimes will be implemented to the high standard of the UK's current visa operations.

The government's decision has also been strengthened by the Serious Organised Crime Agency in the country who during the fast few months reportedly uncovered a group of people on 'forged or stolen South African passports' in the country. Government officials insisted that it is vital to put such security into consideration hence the decision.

However critics are worried that such restriction may affect the tourism industry taking into consideration that over 400,000 South Africans visit the United Kingdom between 2007 and 2008.

Until recently South Africans remain the fifth largest group of visitors to Britain after Americans, Australians, Canadians and Japanese. Among those visitors, 168,000 are tourists, 46,200 on business, 52,800 in transit, 132,000 returning after absence abroad, 2,890 with work permits plus their 1,190 dependants. However a total of 1,190 were reportedly refused entry by immigration authorities.

Furthermore it is an open secret that the government has been under pressure from some members of the opposition Conservative Party regarding immigration issues. Few minutes ago one senior conservative MP has asked the Prime Minister to inform the House of Parliament 'how many illegal immigrants were deported'.

Reacting to the new rules, Jo Pityana, a South African graduate in London told the Point : 'Despite the fact that the actions of a few minority may have negative effect on others, it is imperative that the UK government let us know in a transparent manner in order for those affected to prepare themselves for the future'.

Meanwhile the government has been hailed by human rights associations and religious and faith groups to ban Geert Wilders, a far-right Dutch MP whose film linking Islam with terrorism from entering the United Kingdom.

The Dutch MP reportedly wanted to show his controversial film at an event in the House of Lords but to his disappointment he was told by the United Kingdom officials that he would not be allowed to enter the country despite reports that the Dutch Government has told Britain to change its position.