Foreign spectators and visas for 2010

18th March 2010 By: Chris Watters

The Department of Home Affairs has set out its permit arrangements for the anticipated flood of spectators coming to the World Cup.

So what are the rules and requirements and how is the Department going to avoid horrendous bottlenecks at the ports of entry. To help the fans the Department has developed two key innovations. The first will be the operation of Dedicated Express Lanes [DEL] at the airports which will serve the ticket / voucher-holding traveller [as well as accredited media and FIFA officials]. Volunteers stationed at Passport Control will guide the ticket holders to the DEL which in turn will get them to immigration booths. The second innovation is the creation of the ‘Event Visa.'

To put the Event Visa into a proper context, a general rule of immigration control is that every foreign national needs permission to enter a foreign country. South Africa, as is the norm elsewhere, has a list of countries that enjoy a sort-of ‘most-favoured-nation status' on immigration issues such that the passport holders of those countries do not need permission (visas) to travel to South Africa. Classically, these countries include the US, Canada, most of the EU countries, Australia etc.

I must pause to mention that the only African country that enjoys this status - and whose citizens do not need visas to travel to SA - is Botswana [according to the Home Affairs' website].

The Event Visa has been created to assist ticket-holders who have passports from so-called ‘non-visa-exempt' countries.

How is the Event Visa obtained? Well, the first rule is that the prospective spectator must apply in person for the Event Visa at his / her nearest South African Embassy or High Commission; visas cannot be issued at a Port of Entry. Then the applicant must have his FIFA Match Ticket Application Number which will be verified against the FIFA match ticket list. The Event Visa applicant must also complete the standard visa application form (attached), produce two colour passport photographs, a valid return air ticket, a valid passport [ie it must be valid for at least 30 days after the scheduled return date and have at least two clean pages] and proof of having adequate funds to cover his or her stay in South Africa and medical insurance that is valid for South Africa. Applicants may also be asked to supply undertakings from their hosts or proof of hotel bookings.

There is no fee for the Event Visa and, if approved, the visa will be issued in five days. The application will also be checked against a control list - to exclude "undesirable travellers" - and the Department's traditional V-List of persons who are already excluded from the country for immigration-related offences. If the visa is approved, the Event Visa holder will, on arrival at the Port of Entry, be guided / directed via the DEL to the immigration booths.

On arrival at a Port of Entry, the Ticket Voucher-holding-traveller - whether holding an Event Visa or being from a visa-exempt country - must produce to Passport Control -

* a valid travel document [with or without the Event Visa, as the case may be];
* proof of financial status;
* proof of vaccination, if from a yellow fever country; and,
* proof of a return ticket.

If these requirements are satisfied, a temporary residence permit will be endorsed into the passport and the traveller will be cleared to enter South Africa. Immigration officials at Passport Control may still impose conditions on the permit depending mainly on the country of origin of the traveller. The spectator-traveller must leave SA on or before the expiry date on the permit endorsed in his passport. Should he/she fail to do, they will be dealt with as illegal foreigners and will be liable to arrest, detention [there is no provision for bail], deportation and exclusion from South Africa.

What happens if it all goes wrong and the spectator- traveller either has his Event Visa application refused or is refused admission at the port of entry. In summary, there is a complex internal appeal or review process in place in terms of section 8 of the Immigration Act to challenge negative decisions. The appeal mechanism is not however geared to produce expedited outcomes and delays of months, are not uncommon currently.