Kenyans planning to travel to South Africa will from January next year enjoy a visa-free stay of up to 90 days per calendar year, but those who overstay their welcome, or enter illegally will pay a huge penalty.
On Wednesday, Kenyan President William Ruto and his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa witnessed an agreement that could end decades of complaints from Nairobi on immigration policies by South Africa.
It means that Kenyans will no longer need to apply for e-visas or regular visas before travelling to South Africa for business or tourism. The tradition has been that Kenyans apply for a ‘free’ visa from an agent of the South African High Commission who charges an ‘application fee’ to handle the paperwork. The visa often comes out after four working days.
With the new agreement, all Kenyans will need is an invitation and return ticket, as well as proof of vaccination for yellow fever and Covid-19; and proof of financial ability to stay in South Africa during the intended duration for tourists.
“This has been a challenge that has been with us for many years. Under the new dispensation, we can build a greater relationship,” said President William Ruto at a joint press conference in Nairobi. His South African counterpart said the deal could take business and tourism “to greater heights.”
But there is a catch: Each country will bear the cost of deporting their nationals caught overstaying. This means that a Kenyan overstaying in South Africa or caught entering illegally will be returned at the cost of Nairobi. In essence, officials said this will mean the travel filters between the two countries will be stringent, sieving out illegal immigrants, criminal suspects and all those with no paperwork taking advantage of the system.
“People who abuse the system…don’t deserve to be in South Africa, and they don’t deserve to be in Kenya,” President Ruto added.
“This agreement will be implemented to ensure the bad elements that try to infiltrate our countries are dealt with firmly and decisively.”
South Africa, by easing the visa rules on Kenya, is merely responding to an age-old complaint. And President Ramaphosa’s predecessors often dodged the bullet, accusing Kenya of being a conduit for illegal migrants, mainly from Ethiopia and Somalia. But Ramaphosa’s regime has tried to ease things, including allowing those on student visas to renew their stays while still in south Africa and ending the need to travel back home for the same.
Ramaphosa also allowed Kenyans to transit through South African airports without a transit visa, but as long as they do not leave the airport. In the past, one needed a transit visa regardless of whether he or she would leave the airport or not. Until January next year, however, Kenyans will still need transit visas if heading to neighbouring countries via South Africa by land.
President Ramaphosa described the new ties as based on a “wonderful foundation that exists” between Nairobi and Pretoria.
“We are committed to ensure that the agreements that we have signed now and in the past will be implemented fully,” he said before describing the visa issues as “thorny”.
“Our officials will speed up the processes to implement it. This dispensation will be available to Kenyans over a 90-day period in a given year, meaning that, yes, you can use the 90 days, ten days, 20 days or whatever. Kenyans will have a full 90 days to be able to visit south Africa and we would be able to review this and get reports from our ministers within a year and see how this is functioning,” he explained.
It means Kenyans must ensure their stay in South Africa does not exceed 90 days per year, cumulatively, to qualify for visa free stay.
“This will also be underpinned by other processes that we have agreed can take place: closer monitoring of the implementation process and also be able to have a return policy of those elements that would be undesirable to be able to be returned to Kenya.
“We are going to be monitoring this much more closely and we are setting in place various mechanisms to make sure that what we have agreed to is adhered to and that no one takes advantage of the agreement.”