South African business on Tuesday welcomed the decision by Russia to consider offering visa-free entry for tourists from China, India, Brazil and South Africa as fellow members of BRICS.
“This is a step in the right direction! If the business doors are open or 10 multi-year visas entry are issued, that will no doubt boost our economic growth,” Brian Molefe, chairman of BRICS Business Council SA, told Xinhua.
With an open visa, coupled with a free trade policy, an estimated three million jobs can be created every month within the grouping, according to Molefe.
A number of South African business organisations have been pushing for the scrapping of visas among BRICS members so as to make doing business and travelling easier.
Trade and economic experts say South Africa’s strict visa regulations have become the main impediment for mutual economic and trade deals among BRICS members.
The BRICS countries together have a combined Gross Domestic Product of 33 trillion US dollars and accounted for 17 percent of global trade last year.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday called for visa-free travel for tourists from India and South Africa, in a move to boost Russia’s ailing tourist industry which has been hit by the falling ruble and foreign travel restrictions for Russian officials.
“In order to attract foreign tourists we may provide further simplification of visa formalities, for example, to expand the practice of visa-free exchanges for tourist groups. It may be applied to all BRICS countries,” Putin said at a session of the State Council Presidium in Crimea.
South Africa has been criticized for its heavy handedness in dealing with foreigners, and tight visa regulations, which have already impeded tourism growth.
“Interestingly, South Africa is more open to the countries in the West like the UK and US than her BRICS partners despite political talk of interaction and cooperation,”said Dr James Matthews, a lecturer in international relations at the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg.
Lunga Ngqengelele, spokesperson for SA Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba, said,”You may not be aware that BRICS countries that carry official and diplomatic passports are exempted from visa requirements.What remains to be dealt with are passport holders of ordinary people and business persons to be exempted for those countries.”
Notwithstanding, a South Africa businessman, Peter Daniels of Metal and Steel Company based in Johannesburg said, “SA is the only BRICS member country that offers a 10-year multiple-entry visa to business people in the grouping. All the BRICS members should also take a leave from South Africa and do the same.”
Brazil does not require visa for South Africa nationals and vice versa, according to Paul Murray of Immigration Solutions, a company that provides immigration consultancy.
He noted that for South Africans visiting China, they need a visa, which costs an average of US$ 50 and the process takes about four working days. And visitors from China are not spared of these hassles when they want to visit either South Africa or India.
The number of tourists from China dropped by almost a quarter in 2014 when less than 83, 000 Chinese tourists visited South Africa, down from 109,000 in 2013, according to a report compiled by the Tourism Business Council of South Africa in June.
South African President Jacob Zuma said earlier this year that his country was making efforts to remove trade barriers and promote investment opportunities, therefore it was necessary to remove barriers so as to help BRICS countries grow faster and create more jobs.