by Mamadou Saidou Bah & Marie Rebecca Jolicoeur

South Africa should change its policy of burdening visa applications for Africans. The country is one of the most difficult countries for Africans to travel to because its visa application is complex and applicants face numerous challenges. Nationals of only 20 African countries can travel to South Africa with no visa of which 13 are from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries (see table below 1), yet holders of  at least 28 different European passports can freely enter the country.

Table 1: List of African visa exemption countries



SADC or Non-SADC Countries

Number of days




90 days per annum




30 days




90 days


Cape Verde


30 days




30 days




90 days per annum




90 days per annum




30 days




30 days




30 days




90 days per annum




30 days




30 days




30 days


São Tomé and Príncipe


90 days




90 days per annum




90 days per annum




90 days




90 days per annum




90 days

Source: Department of Home Affairs South Africa[2]


In this contribution, we discuss the general requirements for visa application to South Africa, the new changes in the country’s burdening visa regime, the country’s preference for passport holders from Schengen nations, the need to remove visa restrictions for Africans and highlight some experiences that Africans face with the South Africa’s visa regime.

General requirements

In June 2022, the Minister of Home Affairs of South Africa Aaron Motsoaledi announced a complete overhaul of the country’s immigration system for foreign nations who wish to stay for over three months in South Africa.[3]

An applicant for a visa to South Africa needs a completed BI-84 form, a valid passport, two photographs, a yellow-fever vaccination certificate, proof of sufficient means, proof of the payment fee and when travelling by air, a return or onward ticket.[4]

Changes in South Africa’s visa applications

The changes in the visa application process have caused a backlog in processing visas. Before the introduction of the new changes, visa applications used to be submitted through the Visa and Permit Facilitation Centres (VFS) or through the South African Mission in a particular country. Thereafter, the applications were processed and outcomes sent to the applicants.[5]

Now, the new system requires applicants to apply through the VFS Centres or through a South African Mission but these two institutions scan and email the applications to the Department of Home Affairs in Pretoria where a verification of the documents are carried out by the adjudicating team of the department.[6]  Thereafter, the department draws up a recommendation and send it along with the application to the Director for Quality Assurance, who confirms compliance or make recommendation whether to approve the application or reject it.[7]

The Director General receives the recommendations and makes a final decision as to whether to approve or reject the application. The application is thereafter sent back to the adjudicating team to capture the decision and upload the manual route cover which entails the decision on the system.[8] The outcome is presented to the Director-General who signs the document. The final document is captured on the Movement Control System (MCS) and the outcome is dispatched to the High Commission or VFS Centres.[9] The above shows just how cumbersome and bureaucratic the visa application has now become. During this period, applicants will be kept waiting for some time without knowing the faith of their applications.

South Africa and Schengen countries

While most Schengen countries do not require visa to travel to South Africa for duration of 90 days, African nationals have to apply for Schengen visa before travelling to EU countries.[10] The Schengen visa is a permit given by Schengen countries allowing citizens from third-country states to go into the Schengen area for a short term such as tourisms or business trips. Holders of the Schengen visa can travel to 29 countries and stay for a period not exceeding 90 days.[11]

In 2023, the European Union (EU) scooped £56.3 million (R1.1 billion) from rejected visa applications from African citizens. As per the data from the Schengen Visa Statistics in 2023, 704, 00 visa rejections were received by Africans which made up 43.1% of those rejected in 2023.[12]

Nationals of South Africa account for £77, 880 (R15.7 million) of the amount collected from rejected visa applications to Schengen countries.[13] The amount spent by South Africans and by extension Africans on Schengen visa fees is exorbitant. In the case of South Africa, the country makes zero visa fees from Schengen nationals who visit the country for a period not exceeding 90 days while South Africans spend huge amount of money in securing visas to Schengen countries.


The need to remove visa restrictions for Africa

The Department of Home Affairs of the Republic of South Africa released a list issued 11 June 2024 which provides for the list of countries that are exempted from a South African visa for a stay period of 30 to 90 days.[14]

However, there are a host of notable African countries that do not make it to the list including Nigeria, Senegal, The Gambia, Cameroon, Sudan, Somalia, Congo Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Mauritania, Libya.[15] This list is not exhaustive. Nationals of these countries must apply and obtain a visa to enter South Africa even if their stay is less than 30 days.

However, all Schengen countries are exempt from visa to enter South Africa for at least 90 days with the exception of Estonia, Latvia and Slovenia, which do not feature on the list.[16]

The stringent visa restrictions hinder the country’s foreign investment and economic potentials as it will negatively impacts on the country’s participation on African Continent Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) which aims to foster economic growth and development, economic integration and intra-Africa trade.[17] The participation of South Africa in AFCFTA could be improved by more open visa policies for Africans. The open visa policy will allow the free movement of goods and people, benefitting the entire continent.

It is obvious that stringent visa policies will risk economic isolation. In order to avoid isolation, Rwanda for instance, announced free visa entry for Africans. The initiative will no doubt boost the country’s economy and make it a top tourism destination for Africans.

The benefits that come with the removal of visa restrictions for Africans travelling to South Africa cannot be overstated. The removal of visa restrictions for Africans to freely travel to South Africa will help uphold the rights of people to freedom of movement within the continent. It will help promote regional integration and economic growth as it will boost investment across the continent. The scrapping of visa restrictions will undoubtedly promote tourism as it will lead to increased revenue for the sector. South Africa stands to benefit from tourism because of the country’s history and that will encourage many Africans to travel and explore the country’s rich traditional culture and history. 

However, right now it is extremely difficult to travel to the country. The country has stringent visa restrictions even for fellow Africans. In September 2023 for instance, Austin Demby, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Health, and some other African health ministers from other countries were refused entry into South Africa.[18] This was because they did not have a visa to enter the country.

Further, despite Ramaphosa’s emphasis on immigration and tourism, the first year of his presidency saw 7000 Nigerians got their visas rejected.[19] It is indeed true that South Africa is largely closed to other Africans but more welcoming to the wider world.[20] When it comes to Africans, the visa regime of South Africa is applied rigidly and that is a contributing factor to the high rejections of visa applications by Africans.

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) asserts that between 2015 and 2021, South Africa has yearly rejected 52% and 68% visa applications for skilled workers permit and business visa respectively most often because of missing documents or ‘negative recommendation from the Department of Labour’.[21]


We call on the government of South Africa to reconsider its visa regime for Africans and follow the good example of Rwanda and remove all travel restrictions for Africans. There is no doubt removing visa restrictions will promote foreign investment, economic growth and continental reintegration and South Africa will be a prime beneficiary for all the good things that come with the scrapping of visa restrictions for Africans.


[1] L. Madowo ‘Why is it so hard for Africans to visit other African countries?’, Oct. 07, 2018. Available at https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-45677447 (accessed 16 June 2024).

[2] Department of Home Affairs - Exempt Countries (dha.gov.za)(accessed 16 June 2024).

[3] N. Moodley and others ‘South Africa’s new visa system is already causing headaches’. Available at https://businesstech.co.za/news/government/604114/south-africas-new-visa-system-is-already-causing-headaches/ (accessed  15 June 2024).

[4] ‘Documents Required for South Africa Visa Application’ https://visaguide.world/africa/south-africa-visa/requirements/, (accessed 15 June2024).

[5] Moodley and others (n 3).

[6] Moodley and others (n 3).

[7] Moodley and others (n 3).

[8] Moodley and others (n 3).

[9] Moodley and others (n 3 ).

[10] L. Philpot, ‘South Africans lose millions in rejected Schengen visa applications’, The South African. Available at https://www.thesouthafrican.com/lifestyle/south-africans-lose-millions-in-rejected-schengen-visa-applications/ (accessed 15 June 2024).

[11] Philpot (n 10).

[12] Philpot (n 10).

[13] Philpot (n 10).

[14] ‘Department of Home Affairs - Countries exempt from South African Visas’, available at https://www.dha.gov.za/index.php/countries-exempt-from-sa-visas (accessed June 16 2024).

[15] Department of Homes Affairs (n 14).

[16] Department of Homes Affairs (n 14).

[17] I. Imokhai-Bello, ‘South Africa could lose foreign investments due to strict visa regime’, Ventures Africa. Available: https://venturesafrica.com/south-africa-could-lose-foreign-investments-due-to-strict-visa-regime/ (accessed: June.19, 2024).

[18] D. Sorie ‘Powerful Sierra Leone Minister Refused Entry Into South Africa’, Sierraloaded. Available: https://sierraloaded.sl/news/health-minister-refused-entry-south-africa/ (accessed June 17, 2024).

[19] E.Van Diemen ‘INFOGRAPHIC | 7 000 Nigerians denied visas - who else is SA rejecting? | News24’. Available: https://www.news24.com/News24/infographic-7-000-nigerians-denied-visas-who-else-is-sa-rejecting-20191021 (accessed June. 16, 2024).

[20] Madowo (n 1).

[21] J. Cilliers ‘South Africa’s visa regime keeps badly needed skilled workers out’ 2023 Published by Institute for Security Studies (ISS)  South Africa’s visa regime keeps badly needed skilled workers out | ISS Africa ( accessed 19 June 2024).


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