13 February 2009

South African govt to work with UK immigration authorities

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The South African Government has announced it would work with the British Home Office to improve its immigration system so that it could maintain good relations with the UK and improve conditions for South African travellers.

Last week the British Home Office announced that after the March 3, South African nationals would have to apply for a UK visa if they are wanting to visit or transit through the UK.  The decision comes after months of waiting for the South African immigration service to change its passport regulations to make it tougher for foreign nationals to get South African citizenship.

The British Government has been battling an underground ring of illegal immigration using South African passports as their means of gaining access to Britain.  They also have intelligence claiming that al-Qaeda training camps are using South Africa as their base before arriving in Britain.

South Africa has responded now by saying they will work with the UK immigration and government departments to establish the steps they need to take to improve conditions for travellers.

"We will continue to engage the UK authorities to look at how to make sure that inconvenience is minimised as much as possible building on the fact that we do have good bilateral relations and those relations are important for us to preserve," foreign affairs director general, Ayanda Ntsaluba said.

"On our side, we will continue to work with the department of home affairs and continue to make the necessary representations and will handle the issue with the UK High Commission here to try and make sure the inconvenience of South Africans travelling abroad is minimised as much as possible."

Over 400,000 South Africans land in Britain every year, and under the new rules they will all have to apply for a UK visa, even if it is just to use the UK as a transit stopover.  In 2007, the numbers of South Africans visiting the UK comprised 168,000 tourists, 132,000 returning after absence abroad, 46,200 business travellers, 52,800 in transit, and 2,890 with UK work permits plus their 1,190 dependants.  The Border Agency refused over one thousand South Africans from entering the UK.

Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said the clamp-down on South African visas is proof of the government's new tough stance on UK immigration laws and its commitment to protecting its residents from those who try to take advantage of it.

"The Government said it would get tough and we meant it.  Already our shake-up of border security is delivering results, with three million fingerprints taken from visa applicants and 3,000 people caught trying to hide their identity," he said.

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