Family caught out by new South African visa regulations

Family caught out by new South African visa regulations

Political bureaucracy has become personal for one South African family, forced to forego a funeral due to new visa regulations. In a remembrance service in Christchurch, Charlene Apollos and her family celebrated the life of their beloved mother and grandmother, while the funeral took place 11,000 kilometres away in South Africa. Changes to South Africa's visa waiver policy for New Zealand passport holders, which came into effect early this year, meant the Christchurch family of five were unable to attend the funeral.

Political bureaucracy has become personal for one South African family, forced to forego a funeral due to new visa regulations.
In a remembrance service in Christchurch, Charlene Apollos and her family celebrated the life of their beloved mother and grandmother, while the funeral took place 11,000 kilometres away in South Africa.
Changes to South Africa’s visa waiver policy for New Zealand passport holders, which came into effect early this year, meant the Christchurch family of five were unable to attend the funeral.

“For three days we didn’t grieve because we were more emotionally invested in trying to obtain these visas, which was very taxing on us as a family . . . It was even harder on us after the three days because there was also the realisation that we wouldn’t be going home to be with our family and lay her to rest,” Apollos said.

On March 13 and two days after her mother-in-law’s death, Apollos started making visa application inquiries, first with the High Commission.

House of Travel commercial director Brent Thomas says the new visa policy will likely have an adverse impact on the number of Kiwis travelling to South Africa.

House of Travel commercial director Brent Thomas says the new visa policy will likely have an adverse impact on the number of Kiwis travelling to South Africa.

The funeral was planned for March 18 and the family wanted to be in South Africa by March 17.

Apollos was gutted to learn no emergency visa criteria existed and the normal processing time would apply.

Obtaining the visa would have required a trip to Wellington from Christchurch to lodge their physical applications, alongside a cover letter pleading their case. With no sure guarantee their applications would be successful, the family accepted their fate.

“We really don’t want another family to go through what we went through. We hope they will reconsider their decision and put some criteria in place for dealing with this when it comes up because obviously you can’t pre-empt it.”

Last week’s debacle came as a surprise to the family, who in October 2016 and ahead of the visa requirement, travelled to South Africa with ease.

“We didn’t think this would happen. It is obviously a diplomatic tit for tat.”

South African High Commissioner Zodwa Lallie said the inconvenience the family had suffered was regrettable.

“Bilateral relations between countries are designed to enhance rather than impede.”

Lallie said the South African Government could do better to make allowances for emergency travel.

“Immigration officials need to consider people’s circumstances in order to provide emergency services, consideration of emergencies is given as far as the client provides supporting documentation.”

Fine Travel agent and African specialist Donna Baker said the Apollos family were among several clients who had missed funerals because of the new visa policy.

“I do a lot of bereavement travel, which is why it has come to my attention, and it’s not an easy situation.”

Baker said the end of the 20-year reciprocal agreement between the two countries had thrown a spanner in the works and visas were, in some cases, taking up to a month to be processed.

“They say ideally seven days but it’s generally taking a bit longer than that.”

Figures provided by the South African High Commission showed 1733 visas were processed between January 16 and March 23 this year.

House of Travel commercial director Brent Thomas said South Africa’s visa requirements were causing added stress for customers wanting to travel to South Africa.

“We believe the visa process is likely to have an adverse impact on the number of Kiwis travelling to Southern Africa, which is a real shame as it is such a bucket list destination.”

Thomas said several key people in the travel industry, including representatives from House of Travel, were involved in conversations with the South African High Commission to try and create a better experience for people travelling to South Africa.

“It’s great that a second visa office has been opened in Auckland, however this doesn’t assist South Islanders with obtaining a visa. We hope to see further changes in the visa application process.”

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) spokesman said they understood the distress families could experience in difficult times, but it was up to the South African Government to determine its immigration and visa policies.

“MFAT is in regular discussions with the South African Government and has been highlighting the difficulties faced by New Zealanders in getting visas.”

Story: EMILY SPINK /STUFF NZ

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Adekunle Owolabi
Adekunle Owolabi 461 posts

Adekunle Owolabi studies democracy, human rights, public opinion, political behavior, civil rights and policy aimed at improving the human condition, with a focus on African countries.

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