Nairobi to open fresh talks with South Africa on visa rules row

Kenya and South Africa are expected to open fresh talks in Nairobi on Monday in a bid to resolve a visa standoff that has threatened their bilateral relations since last year.

Top on the agenda of South Africa’s immigration officials expected in Nairobi between Monday and Wednesday is review of travel rules that could see Kenyans start getting free passes upon arrival in Johannesburg.

Last year, South Africa imposed tough rules on Kenyans seeking to visit the country, besides a service charge of Sh5,850 for applications, sparking an uproar.

Currently, South Africans visiting Kenya do not require a visa if they are on transit or plan to stay for less than 30 days.

In the past, Kenyans would get free visa if they were staying for less than 30 days in South Africa but required no visa if they were transiting through South African airports.

Visa processing

“We are hopeful of a deal this time round,” said Kenya’s Foreign Affairs secretary Amina Mohamed. “We look to have Kenyans get their visa upon arrival in South Africa or even drop the need for visa for those on short travels as is the case with South Africans.”

Previous talks have yielded little.

Kenyans travelling to South Africa also have to wait for at least seven working days for visa processing.

Those making visits of more than 30 days have to pay an additional visa fee of Sh4,800 on top of the Sh5,850 service charge.

If the two countries fail to agree on the pact, Kenya’s Immigration Department will from September 1 make it mandatory for South Africans, like other foreigners, to apply for visa online at a fee and wait for at least two days to get their travel documents.

READ: Kenya, SA in bid to end visa rules row

Kenya’s new immigration rules require all visiting foreigners to register and apply for visa on the eCitizen portal — a government website — from September 1.

Presently, foreigners, excluding South Africans who do not need visas to visit Kenya, get their visas upon arrival in the country.

The other group that is excluded from having visas to visit Kenya are nationalities of Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda under the East African Community’s common market protocol.

Kenyan officials now seem emboldened by the new visa requirement that could be a potent bargaining chip for better terms with South Africa.