The UK government has added South Africa to a list of countries whose citizens require a visa to visit the UK. The change follows a review of current visa rules. South Africa was amongst a number of countries which had been warned that stricter rules would be implemented if they did not improve the security of their own passport and immigration systems. The change is part of a wide-ranging and ongoing overhaul of the UK immigration system intended to increase the security of the UK’s borders.
Implementation of the new rules for South African visitors began on 3rd March 2009 with full implementation scheduled to be completed by later in the year.
Visa Nationals and Non-Visa Nationals
Foreign nationals are divided into two categories for UK immigration purposes: visa nationals and non-visa nationals. Visa nationals require a visa to come to the UK – the majority of foreign nationals come under this category. Non-visa nationals do not usually require a visa to come to the UK for up to six months. Non-visa nationals may need a visa if they intend to stay in the UK for longer than six months or if, for example, they wish to work or study while they are in the country.
A full list of all visa national countries can be found at the UK Border Agency’s dedicated visa website. It should be noted that the nationals of some countries will require a visa even if they only wish to transit through the UK en route to another country. Indeed, foreign nationals wishing to transit through the UK from South Africa may now require a transit visa to do so.
Other countries added to the list of those whose citizens require a visa to visit the UK as part of the same review were Lesotho, Swaziland, Bolivia and Venezuela.
South African Visitors to the UK
Previously South African nationals did not require a visa to come to the UK for short tourist visits of up to six months. Prior to this change visitors from South Africa came fifth in terms of the number of visitors to the UK by nationals of countries outside the European Union.
The rules have been changed because of growing concerns about the possible national security threat posed by South African passport holders, as well as the risk that they may breach immigration rules or commit crimes whilst in the UK. In particular there were concerns that the South African passport system was open to abuse by nationals of other countries who would apply for a South African passport so that they could come to the UK.
The Impact of the New Visa Rules on South African Visitors to the UK
All South Africans visiting the UK for the first time will now have to be fingerprinted and apply for a visa. The cost of the visa will depend on whether it is a six-month visitor’s visa or one which allows the applicant to work while they are in the UK. A first-time six-month visitor’s visa will cost £65.
Some South African visitors who have previously travelled to the UK may be able to apply for an exemption from the visa requirement – but only until the new system is fully implemented later in 2009.
South African nationals who wish to come to the UK to work will already have felt the impact of the points-based immigration system for workers, which is considered to be stricter than the previous system it replaced. South Africans may also be affected by the general tightening of the rules for foreign nationals wishing to work in the UK which have been introduced to protect the interests of UK workers during an economic downturn.
Assurances have been given by British diplomats in South Africa that extra UK visa processing services will be provided to ensure that the disruption to genuine South African visitors is kept to a minimum. The South African government has said that it will begin introducing new passports which comply with international immigration and security requirements. This may lead to the new rules being relaxed at some point in the future.