Should all go according to plan, South Africans may once again be able to visit the UK without requiring visas.

The South African government says it is sufficiently confident of the security of its passport system that it has approached British authorities to negotiate the possible reinstatement of South Africa’s visa-free status.

The UK revoked this status in 2008 after rampant corruption in the Department of Home Affairs saw officials issue passports to criminals and asylum seekers, increasing the risk of suspected terrorists entering the UK via South Africa.

After a British court heard that at least 6,000 illegal Asian immigrants had been smuggled into the UK on South African passports, SA shot to the top of the British government’s visa ‘hit list’. Immigration experts said at the time that the ‘Green Mamba’ was “no longer worth the paper it’s written on”.

This change has affected thousands of South Africans, who for the last five years have had to pay for costly visas to come on business trips, holidays or to visit family here.

However, Home Affairs director-general Mkuseli Apleni said on Friday that the Cabinet had decided to renegotiate visa conditions for South African travelling to the UK after expressing satisfaction that the Department of Home Affairs had taken “drastic steps” over the last five years to root out corruption, clean up the national population register and redesign the security features of passports.

“We now have one to the world’s safest passports that cannot be forged. The process of issuing passports is more credible and has stringent checks and balances to ensure applicants are genuinely South African,” Apleni told Business Day.

He said South Africa had followed best international practice to monitor travellers’ movements at all its entry and exit points. At OR Tambo International Airport the fingerprints of every traveller using a South African passport are checked against the national population register to ensure that the passport holder is a South African citizen.

The measure has led to the arrest and detention of a number of people with fraudulently acquired South African passports. Apleni said this had eliminated the problem of people leaving South African shores as South Africans and landing in Europe with a different identity, which posed “a serious challenge for immigration officials there and compromised South Africa. We also check that passengers’ names and passports correspond so that we are sure of visitors’ identity and the purpose of their visit.”

Apleni said the department believes these international standards will satisfy their British counterparts and that they will view the request for the restoration of the visa-free status for South Africa favourably.

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