The NZ Government has just announced that South Africa is about to lose its visa-waiver status.  From 21 November 2016, all South Africans must apply for a visa before visiting New Zealand.  The privilege of being able to just walk on to a ‘plane from Joburg to Auckland is over.

How Did This Happen?

I can’t say I’m all that surprised.  There are several factors that have conspired to bring this about:

  1. The increasingly desperate state of affairs in SA has encouraged people to come to “Look, See & Decide” in greater numbers;
  2. Immigration’s growing uneasiness about the numbers of people coming from South Africa who are clearly not just on holiday; and its perception, rightly or wrongly, that a number of them might do whatever it takes to avoid going back there;
  3. People have been fed a lot of bad advice about how to get into New Zealand and stay here.  This extends to making false declarations about their intentions, such as saying that they are here to “holiday” when they are carrying invitations for job interviews from prospective employers in their luggage.

The numbers of South Africans being turned around at the airport has been a topic of conversation in the industry for years now.  I warned of the pitfalls of relying on the visa-free exemption in April last year.  And I have pointed out the risks of “LSD tripping” without doing one’s homework first.

The Fallout

Now, I accept that many South African people will feel hurt and bitter that they and their people have been singled out as being an unacceptable risk.  However, maybe Immigration NZ has done them a favour.

Visiting a country without a visa in your passport is always a potential risk.  After all, there is never a guarantee of being let in at the other end, no matter how automatic it seems to be.  Lately, people from South Africa have faced considerable stress – and conflicting advice – about the prospect of taking a long and expensive flight with the risk of being put back on the ‘plane because someone at the other end doesn’t like their profile.

If on the other hand they apply for a visa while at home they can meet head-on, and on their own terms, a major barrier to entry.  In many cases it is what Immigration calls their bona fides – their genuine intentions in coming here, or at least evidence that they have a reason to go home after their visit.  Better to deal with the issue when you control when and where information is provided to INZ, than scrambling to try and do it in a cold border office after an 18-hour trip.

Also keep in mind that people can apply for Visitor’s Visas online.  Copies of documents such as bank statements, letters of invitation etc. can be uploaded directly to INZ.  The application could be processed anywhere in the world and not just in Pretoria.  There has not been the level of take-up of online applications that Immigration was hoping for, so that they have excess capacity to handle such applications and they can be completed in days rather than weeks.

Even if a Visitor’s Visa is granted there is still no absolute guarantee of being let in.  This is because while a Visa gets you to the airport, you still need an Entry Permission to be issued at Border Control.  However, the new requirement to apply for a visa first does, I believe, reduce the uncertainties about visiting New Zealand.

Preparing such an application will require some care.  A declined application because of doubts about bona fides could jeopardise any future attempts to get visas.  In the case of South Africa, at least, a number of people should consider getting professional assistance to apply even for the Visitor’s Visa – especially if their own intention is really not to be a tourist, but to stay.