• Monday, July 15, 2024
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Businesses hurt as visa denials persist despite Ramaphosa’s visit

Businesses hurt as visa denials persist despite Ramaphosa’s visit

Expectations that the visit of Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s President, in December would boost trade and strengthen ties between Nigeria and South Africa appear to have been dashed as Nigerians still face visa denials and delays.

During the visit, President Ramaphosa tasked respective officials with identifying key sectors for investment that would boost economic growth and development. He had stressed that South Africa remained committed to strengthening relations with Nigeria, which he described as “a great friend and ally who stood by us during our struggle for liberation.”

Both countries signed agreements of co-operation on youth development, audio visual co-production and a programme of cooperation in the field of arts and culture.

The South African president had asked for closer ties and special relationship with Nigeria and even signed a new Memorandum of Understanding.

Some Nigerians who applied for South African visas lamented that they were denied visas by the country’s mission even after they had met the requirements. The applicants denied visas include students, investors and tourists.

After applications are submitted, processing times vary depending on the type of visa the applicant is requesting. Nigerian citizens planning to visit South Africa for short-term trips are expected to have their visa processed within 10-15 days.

BusinessDay, however, learnt that in recent times, applicants have had to wait for over one month to get back their passports, many of whom were eventually denied visas.

An applicant who craved anonymity said he applied for the South African visa three weeks before an event, flew to and from Abuja to drop his passport, lodged in a hotel in Abuja, booked a flight ticket to Johannesburg and paid the visa application fee.

The applicant said after his passport was held for a month, he was told that since the date of the event had elapsed, he was not qualified for a visa. He said his colleagues from Kenya and Ghana got visas in three and five days, respectively.

“To spend thousands of naira and then be denied a visa is unfair,” the applicant said.

Ike Josephine, another applicant, told BusinessDay that she recently applied for a South African study visa and after waiting for almost two months, the embassy denied her visa without any justifiable reason.

Josephine said she submitted all the required documents, including the admission letter, but she was not given a visa.

“I learnt some other persons who applied for study visas also didn’t get. It is really a pathetic situation. I have decided to pitch my tent elsewhere. Good luck to them,” she said.

Darkey Africa, South African Consul General in Lagos, in response to BusinessDay enquiries, described the visa process as a transparent process.

“The visa process is a transparent process, governed by established and open rules and protocols, and each case is treated on its own merit,” he said.

Alexander Nwuba, managing director of Smile Air Ghana, told BusinessDay that before his last visit to South Africa, he had to wait for months with his passport at the embassy while the visa was being processed.

Nwuba, a former MD of Associated Airlines and WestAir Benin, suggested that it might be better to collect all the documents in advance with a copy of the passport and then have the applicant bring in their passport if a visa is granted.

He said visa issues between Nigeria and South Africa could affect trade between both countries.

Nwuba said: “Trade between Africa’s leading economies leaves much to be desired; South Africa primarily imports crude oil and being a highly industrialized nation exports a variety of goods.

“While South Africa can benefit from expanded trade with Nigeria, being a highly industrialised nation to cure its trade deficit, interaction at a human level is so limited that many of the things that Nigerians can import from South Africa are imported from Asia and Europe, which are far more convenient.”

According to him, Nigerians trade on a personal level and primarily as small-scale traders; so with easy access to Asia, the Middle East and Europe, trade activity is diverted outside the region.

“Consider further that Nigeria is 32nd in South Africa’s export destination, accounting for less than one percent of exports and 10th in import tells you that the relationship is far from being optimised and the reason isn’t far-fetched: South Africa is not accessible to Nigerian importers,” Nwuba said.

There are indications that the situation could also be affecting passenger traffic from Nigeria to South Africa. Currently, South African Airways and Air Peace are the only airlines that operate direct flights to South Africa.

Read also: U.S Embassy waives interview for some visa renewal applicants

Before COVID-19, South African Airways operated fully booked daily flights to South Africa on its Airbus 333 aircraft, (238 seat capacity) but the situation has changed as the airline currently operates three weekly flights from Nigeria to South Africa with a 50 percent load factor.

Air Peace only operates two weekly flights with its Boeing 777 (350 seat capacity) to South Africa, also on a 50 percent load factor.

BusinessDay, however, also learnt that it is difficult for South Africans to get Nigerian visas.

Seyi Adewale, chief executive officer of Mainstream Cargo Limited, said that regarding the presidential initiative to foster the bilateral relations between South Africa and Nigeria, “there is usually a time lag between decisions reached and achieving actual execution that is tangible for all to see.”

“There would be expectations from both sides, for example, as regards what Nigeria’s stand and general policy is regarding SA businesses operating in Nigeria, most especially because it is believed that SA has invested more in Nigeria than the other way around,” he said.

He suggested that foreign offices from both countries revisit the issues, terms reached, timelines agreed and consider performance, limitations and fashion out a way forward with stronger timelines.

“Both governments need to address these issues. We expected things to get better with the visit of the South African president but things haven’t got any better,” Olumide Ohunayo, a travel and aviation analyst, told BusinessDay.