Visa reforms badly needed

AFRICA’S richest man, Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote, drew the country’s attention to its hostile business environment this week when he pointed out during his visit to finalise huge investment deals that Zimbabwe has a rigid visa regime.

Nigeria is classified as “Group C” in Zimbabwe, meaning its nationals need visas to visit the country. This is despite that the West African country supported Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle and even gave government US$5 million to buy from South Africa’s Argus Group Zimpapers, a state propaganda apparatus.

“My last call to the Minister of Tourism, Honourable (Walter) Mzembi, is that he works at investing in an open system so that investors can enter the country freely,” said Dangote who was subjected to visa hassles to come to invest in Zimbabwe.

Dangote’s remarks show that in fact, while most investors always complain about Zimbabwe’s sovereign, economic and political risk, as well as poor credit rating and bad policies, there are other problems complicating the ease of doing business locally. That’s why Zimbabwe needs far-reaching reforms, not just tinkering.

The issue of visas is usually not discussed, but the Nigerian tycoon’s experience shows investors are often confronted with many other barriers to come to Zimbabwe. Apart from visas, there are bureaucratic and legislative obstacles.

Visa regimes can be detrimental to the country’s investment and tourism prospects.

The new immigration regulations in South Africa have caused an outcry as they are already hurting the country’s tourism sector. One of the requirements is for all children under the age of 18 travelling to and from South Africa to be in possession of an unabridged birth certificate in addition to their passport and visa where applicable.
The second is for tourists from countries that are required to have a visa to now appear in person during the visa application process to obtain a biometric travel permit. Tourists have reacted by scrapping South Africa from their itineraries as they don’t want inconveniences, resulting in the country losing millions.

Britain, for instance, has had to relax immigration rules to encourage more Chinese businesses to invest in the country. The visa regime for Chinese visitors had been criticised by Beijing for making it too difficult for investors to enter the United Kingdom.

As a result Chinese nationals visiting the EU no longer need to submit separate UK visa applications if they book with selected travel agents, under the new rules. While immigration controls are necessary for any country to stop illegal immigrants, Zimbabwe must take advantage of its ongoing limited reform process to make it easy for investors, business visitors and tourists to enter the country. It must also facilitate for significant investors to become permanent residents or citizens. Given stiff competition for investment, the country needs to create a friendly business environment by clearing all hurdles that frustrate investors. This requires comprehensive and systematic reforms, not piecemeal measures.

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