Irish immigration plan may end visa-free travel from South Africa

In a potential reversal, visa-free travel from South Africa may soon be revoked, marking a significant shift in Ireland's immigration policy. File image Independent Media

In a potential reversal, visa-free travel from South Africa may soon be revoked, marking a significant shift in Ireland's immigration policy. File image Independent Media

Published May 3, 2024


The Irish government is considering a significant change in policy, with discussions underway regarding the potential termination of visa-free travel for South Africans.

This proposed move signals a departure from recent measures, which abolished visa requirements for South African travellers less than three years ago, after the pandemic lockdowns caused Ireland to enforce strict visa requirements for travellers from countries deemed “high-risk.”

According to a recent Irish Times report, Irish immigration officials have raised concerns regarding asylum-seeking individuals from Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo using South African passports to enter the country.

Figures released by the Department of Justice show that the authorities are currently processing the applications of 198 people who arrived on South African passports this year – just over 3% of total applications.

This issue is set to be deliberated at an upcoming meeting of the Cabinet committee on migration and integration.

Speaking in a cabinet meeting in April, Irish minister for justice, Helen McEntee shared a new immigration policy which has been introduced to speed up international protection (asylum-seeking) application processing times.

“The best way to ensure the integrity of our immigration system is to ensure efficient processing of international protection applications - that gives protection really quickly to those who need it, while also demonstrating to applicants who don’t need it that there is nothing to gain from going down the asylum route,” McEntee said.

Since the introduction of the safe country procedures, countries which Ireland has deemed safe from internal strife and its citizens not at risk, immigration officials have seen a 50% reduction in applications from these countries.

“It is clear evidence that people who are not in need of protection but who are perhaps coming here for economic reasons, are seeing that risking a refusal and deportation order, is not worth it,” said McEntee.

Up to April 12, 2024, Ireland saw 6,069 international protection applications, with Nigeria leading at 33.8% (2,053 applications), followed by Bangladesh (476, 7.8%), Pakistan (443, 7.3%), and Somalia (409, 6.7%).

Among the current accelerated processing for safe countries of origin, Georgia had the highest number of applications (200, 3.3%), followed by South Africa (198, 3.3%), Algeria (65, 1.1%), Botswana (62, 1%), and Albania (61, 1%).

The discussion surrounding immigration policy coincides with efforts to address the influx of asylum seekers entering Ireland, particularly those arriving via Northern Ireland.

Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris emphasised the need for increased collaboration between

Irish and Northern Irish authorities to address the issue effectively after McEntee highlighted that over 80% of international protection applicants were entering the country through Northern Ireland.

The Irish Times reported that on April 19, a group of around 30 people gathered outside Ireland’s International Protection Office in Dublin to protest at what they described as a “migrant camp on their doorstep.”

“They were outnumbered, however, by a counter-protest made-up of more than 100 people who lined up alongside a row of tents where an estimated 170 men have been camping out for months due to a shortage of accommodation for international protection applicants,” the report said.

There was a large police presence, including several public order units, but the protest and counter-protest passed off without incident.

In response to the pressing need for accommodation for asylum seekers, the government has reached out to church dioceses, requesting the availability of buildings or lands to house those in need.

As discussions continue at both the policy and practical levels, the Irish government faces the complex task of balancing immigration controls with humanitarian considerations, working to address the needs of asylum seekers while ensuring the integrity and security of its borders.

South African citizens enjoy visa-free travel to Ireland for short stays, usually up to 90 days.

This arrangement allows South Africans to travel to Ireland without the need for a tourist visa, making it easier for them to visit for tourism, short business trips, or to see family and friends.

However, it's important to note that while a visa is not required, South African citizens are still subject to immigration control upon arrival in Ireland.

This means that the immigration officers have the authority to grant or deny entry even if the traveller does not need a visa.

Travellers must meet certain entry requirements, such as having a valid passport, proof of sufficient funds for their stay, and a return or onward ticket. Providing evidence of permanent employment in South Africa would also be helpful.

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