Monday 23 June 2014

New regulations for unaccompanied minors entering and leaving South Africa

How to get through South African Immigration as a child.

Despite having a visa issued by the South African Embassy in London in 2011 and renewed in South Africa in December 2013 there are 3 different procedures to follow here and the only thing I know for sure is that whether a child travels with their parents or on their own, they must carry an unabridged birth certificate with them.

Travelling with one parent, then a letter from the other parent and the birth certificate to state this person has permission to fly with their child. In the case of a desceased parent then the death certificate must be carried and in the case where the other parent is absent and cannot give permission then a court order is needed.

But what happens if the child is travelling on their own, is over 15 and the airline allows unaccompanied minors on their flight and the parents are divorced, the mother has a new surname and there is no court order because the parents never questioned custody?

Having spent most of the week on the internet and telephone I am still none the wiser as to whether the suggestions I received from the South African Immigration website, British High Commission and Deloitte should suffice.

I’m afraid ‘should suffice’ is not enough for me or my son. He arrives in SA with British Airways on July 27th. I have the following documents as recommended which have been certified at SAPS (police) and will be sending them via DHL once I’ve been given clearance from immigration.

An unaccompanied child must carry with them the following:

Birth Certificate (unabridged) which actually reads on the bottom

A letter from me with contact details stating I am the person collecting him.

A letter from me giving permission for him to enter and then leave SA.

A copy of my passport.

A copy of my divorce certificate and new marriage certificate to prove my name on his birth certificate and how it links with my passport now.

A letter from his father that needs witnessing by a solicitor to give permission for his son to visit me in SA and a separate letter to give permission for his son to leave SA and return to the UK.

I took these documents to OR Tambo airport today to speak with immigration directly to ensure these documents will suffice. The staff, via the twitter account @ortambo_int, were amazing, making phone calls, visiting immigration where I couldn't access, explaining my dilemma then phoning me back to direct me to where I needed to be. I was told my documents were good and son will clear immigration when he presents them, but due to the confusion the new law this has now been postponed until October.

I’m sure there is an easier way, but I can’t find one. My 15 year old is more than capable of travelling half way round the world on his own, finding the right gate etc, but I’m not sure if he’s equipped to deal with immigration after a 12 hour flight.

UPDATE after contacting British Airways who son is flying with. Taken from Foreign Travel Advice.

Even BA can't confirm what travel documents my son would need after October 1st but believe it would be best for him to travel with the following after highlighting the fact that have to be very careful - if your son is refused entry into SA we will be heavily fined:

- a machine-readable passport
- minimum of one full blank page in his passport although Immigration state 2 clear pages
- a copy of the documentation from the SA High Commission that was received with his granted student visa application, including all information relating to him being able to travel on a one-way ticket (standard SA-issued advice says that visitors should hold a return ticket or pay a deposit if on a one-way ticket). We would also say that if there becomes a query at the airport about his one-way ticket, it would be helpful to have with him some kind of proof of how his return ticket will be arranged/paid for (unless his visa application answers this issue fully). Ideally, our Terminal 5 team say an open-dated return ticket might have been better for him to travel on - these can be open for a return flight up to 12 months ahead
- his full/unabridged birth certificate 
- an affidavit from both parents giving their consent for his journey, including agreement for him to travel to SA on a one-way ticket. Please include permanent home addresses on this
- proof of his study in SA. This should be a letter-headed document that confirms he is a current student at their facility, the course he is on and the term dates they expect to receive him between.

UPDATE Son arrived and cleared immigration, no questions asked or documentation requested

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