EduSA warns of visa impact on industry

30, October, 2014

Current visa regulations will have a significant impact of South Africa’s English language travel sector, according to Education South Africa (EduSA), the national association of English language schools, which has also unveiled its new board recently.

The new Education South Africa Executive Committee. From left: Shaun Fitzhenry, Vice Chairperson; Lindsay Michael, Secretary/Treasurer; Johannes Kraus, Chair; Gina Pardenwachter, Membership; and Torrique Borges, Marketing.

Changes introduced to South Africa’s immigration policy in May this year caused confusion as to whether language schools should be recognised as valid institutions for a study visa, while visa applicants are also now required to undertake a visa interview.

Although EduSA has argued that member schools are accredited by Services Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA), and are therefore recognised by the Department of Higher Education, some embassies are refusing study visas for English students as the schools are not directly accredited and don’t offer formal qualifications. While under previous legislation, students could receive a one-year study visa, they are now being directed towards shorter-term visas or denied in some cases.

In 2013, EduSA member schools had 9,124 students and the association estimates this will grow to 11,020 for the current year with growth from all world regions. However, if the confusion of the current legislation remains, EduSA predicts this could drop to 7,743 students in 2015, with declines expected from all world regions.

“The new immigration rules threaten to cut each language school’s business by between 20 per cent and 60 per cent,” said former EduSA Chair and current Vice-Chair, Shaun Fitzhenry. “The long-term effects, however, are likely to be far more dramatic still. Large travel agencies have spent large sums on marketing South Africa as an EFL destination. Now South Africa, through the new immigration rules, has cut off a large proportion of its potential EFL customers. Travel agencies will think twice in the future before spending money on marketing South Africa again. International chains which were considering opening a branch in South Africa will also think twice. Not only will jobs immediately be lost, but many potential jobs will never be created.”

Fitzhenry gave the following example: “If EFL tourists from Colombia, for example, who want to spend their money in South Africa rather than in any other destination, are asked to fly to neighbouring Venezuela to appear in person at the South African Embassy to get a visa for a four-week visit, then this will not merely affect business; it will kill business.”

Even if suitable compromises can be found within weeks, the new regulations will have already impacted on agency promotion, Fitzhenry warned. “Travel agents are finalising their 2015 programmes now and will exclude South Africa under current immigration rules. Once removed from a programme, it might take years before enough trust has been established for South Africa to be included again.”

EduSA has taken a number of steps to combat the threat of the legislation, including hiring a lawyer to negotiate with the Department of Home Affairs and lobbying for the establishment of a separate immigration category for accredited English language schools – comparable to many competitor countries. Meanwhile, most member schools have started the process of TVET (technical and vocational education and training) college accreditation in order to get direct accreditation through the Department of Higher Education.

In other news, EduSA met for its annual AGM in October and members elected a new Executive Committee (Exco). After two years, Chairperson Shaun Fitzhenry of Bay Language Institute, now Vice Chairperson and responsible for visa and accreditation issues, handed over the Chair to Johannes Kraus of Kurus English. "The EFL industry in South Africa is growing steadily. This is reflected in the growth of EduSA’s membership and joint marketing activities. I look forward to the challenge of developing our association further,” said Kraus after his election.

Also elected were Lindsay Michael of EF Cape Town, as Secretary/Treasurer, Gina Pardenwachter of Eurocentres, taking care of membership, and Torrique Borges of LAL, responsible for joint marketing activities. Ann Piscopo, English Language School of Cape Town, left the EduSA Exco, and Fitzhenry thanked her for her tireless contributions to the language travel industry in South Africa over the past few years.

In terms of promotion, the EduSA schools have released a joint marketing brochure for the first time and plan to increase the joint marketing budget for 2015. Following a successful inward mission of 11 Brazilian agents this year, further agent fam trips are being planned for the coming 12 months.

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