SA visa delays scuttle Nigerian applicants’ travel plans

A number of applicants for South African visas have experienced delays and denials, and some have had to cancel travel plans in recent times, BusinessDay has learnt.

Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s President, had eight months ago visited Nigeria, promising to boost trade and strengthen ties between Nigeria and South Africa.

Two days ago, Air Peace announced that it will be suspending its Johannesburg flight operations from August 22 till October 8, 2022 due to the delayed issuance of South African visas to travellers.

The airline also cited aviation fuel scarcity, worsening foreign exchange crunch and the increasing cost of aviation but stressed that the difficulty in getting SA visas by Nigerians had affected its passenger traffic on the Johannesburg route.

It said having informed the South African High Commission in Lagos of the effects of the difficulty in getting SA visas by Nigerians, whose consequence was the abysmally low passenger loads on its flights to and from Johannesburg, it believed that the situation would have improved within the next 60 days, “hence, our willingness to resume operations on the October 8, 2022.”

Some visa applicants to Johannesburg told BusinessDay that delays and denials had become a trend for the South African High Commission.

“I have an event to attend in South Africa on the 12th of August and I had applied for my visa about one month ago but up till now, they have delayed in issuing the visa. I am not even sure of the trip anymore because I don’t know if they would still give me the visa. The delay is just unexpected. I think the government will need to wade into this issue. A lot of Nigerians are also facing similar challenges,” an applicant who wouldn’t want his name mentioned told BusinessDay.

Peter Ugwu, another applicant, said he had to suspend his business travel plans to South Africa after being denied a visa, despite meeting all the requirements.

During Ramaphosa’s visit to Nigeria in December 2021, 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.

He had asked for closer ties and special relationship with Nigeria and even signed a new memorandum of understanding.

Some Nigerians who applied for South Africa visas in recent times have decried the constant denials of visas from the country’s mission even after they met the requirements. Applicants denied visas include students, investors and tourists.

After applications are submitted, processing times vary depending on the type of visa. Nigerian citizens planning to visit South Africa for short-term trips are expected to have their visa processed within 10-15 days. But in recent times, applicants have had to wait for over one month to get back their passports.

“While I understand that the Embassy may sometimes delay visa issuance but travellers also need to apply on time and plan ahead. Sometimes, the visas are delayed because travellers apply very late and start the last minute rush,” Susan Akporiaye, president of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies, said.

Read also: Explainer: Things to know when applying for UK student visa

She said Air Peace suspended the Johannesburg route not only because of visa denials but also because of the unavailable foreign exchange that has continued to affect carriers operating international flights.

Akin Oyebode, a professor of International Law and Jurisprudence, said in an interview with BusinessDay that Nigerians had not ceased complaining over delay and/or non-issuance of visas by the South African authorities and other countries.

He said: “Visa issue could become an irritant in Nigerian/South African relations but sad to note, the traffic seems to be more heavily tilted towards the Nigerian side. Fewer South Africans have the inclination to visit Nigeria than Nigerians who, for a variety of reasons, itch to visit South Africa.

“Some years ago, I was invited to give a lecture in South Africa but when faced by the numerous conditions stipulated by the South African consulate, I had no choice but to forgo the trip.”

He however suggested that it is imperative that the governments of both countries should spare no effort to ensure that relations are brought to an even keel.

He said since both countries are the predominant economic role actors on the continent, Nigeria and South Africa have their jobs well cut out for them to ensure that they fulfill their destiny to the black race.

“The restoration of the fortunes of the South African Airways needs to be complemented by the efforts Air Peace and other Nigerian airlines are able to muster,” the professor added.

Seyi Adewale, aviation expert and chief executive officer of Mainstream Cargo Limited, said visa issues between both countries needed to be addressed, considering the huge economic and trade ties both countries have.

Adewale said Nigeria exported goods worth at least $2.17 billion in 2020 with petroleum products and gas representing approximately 98.5 percent of these exports.

He said South Africa exports to Nigeria totalled $495 million including propylene polymer, apples and pears, delivery trucks and buses, citing Observatory of Economic Complexity statistics.

“Secondly, there are many South African businesses operating in Nigeria as blue-chip companies, namely MTN, Multichoice (DStv), Sun/Protea Hotels, Stanbic IBTC, Oracle, PEP, Eskom and many more. Whereas most Nigerian businesses operating in South Africa are mostly small-scale businesses, except for the few banks that are represented therein such as Zenith Bank, Union Bank, First Bank and First City Monument Bank,” he said.

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