South Africa is busy setting up 11 new visa facilitation centres, managed by international outsourcing and technology services specialist VFS Global, in order to streamline services for foreign nationals applying for visa extensions or changes in South Africa while tightening the country's security.
Speaking to journalists in Pretoria last week, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said the centres would efficiently implement the country's new immigration rules, which came into effect last month, while making life easier for foreign tourists, business people, workers or students who need extended or altered visas within a short space of time.
"This is a radical departure from the existing mode of manual application processes that are responsible for inefficiencies within the permitting environment," Gigaba said.
VFS Global, a specialist service provider for governments and diplomatic missions worldwide, has been contracted to automate and run the application process, including managing the call centre and the 11 facilitation centres spread across South Africa's nine provinces.
Foreigners in South Africa who, for example, need to extend their temporary residence visas for study or work, will be able to apply online and set up an appointment before visiting the nearest facilitation centre to submit their personal biometrics (fingerprints and photographs). Handling and visa fees will all be paid electronically.
Although VFS Global will be responsible for processing visa applications, the decision to approve or reject applications still lies with the Department of Home Affairs. "We will be able to exercise full control over the decision-making processes to ensure that our national interests and security imperatives are served at all times," Gigaba said.
The decision to set up the new facilitation centres and contract their running out to a private company had been informed "by none other than our commitment to improve efficiencies and turnaround times," he added.
The department has already introduced such centres in a number of its high-volume missions abroad - including its missions in China, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria - where it had previously struggled to cut down on long queues and long turn-around times, Gigaba said.
"We have visa facilitation centres at quite a few of our high-volume missions abroad and they have been working fairly successfully ... contributing, I might add, to the success of our tourism stats over the last few years. It is this good practice that we hope to roll out in South Africa."
According to the Department of Home Affairs, the 11 visa facilitation centres will all be open and fully functional by the end of June. They include two centres in Gauteng province and the Western Cape, and one in each of the other seven provinces, as follows:
Eastern Cape - Port Elizabeth
Free State - Bloemfontein (9 June)
Gauteng - Johannesburg and Pretoria
Limpopo - Polokwane
Mpumalanga - Nelspruit
Northern Cape - Kimberley
North West - Rustenburg
Western Cape - Cape Town and George