South Africans will need a visa to visit Britain

South Africans will be required to obtain visas to visit Britain under Government plans to close a route exploited by people smugglers, illegal immigrants and terror suspects.

The new plan will affect almost 420,000 South African nationals who enter Britain every year. In common with US, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand citizens, South Africans can come to Britain as tourists for up to six months as long as their passport is valid for that length of time.

Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, is due to outline the new rules to MPs in the House of Commons, six months after the Home Office threatened the move unless South Africa implemented new security measures. It is likely to be controversial because South Africans form the fifth largest group of visitors to Britain after Americans, Australians, Canadians and Japanese.

The Home Secretary has decided to impose the visa regime months after warning the South African Government that it must act to make it harder for non-South African nationals to obtain a South African passport and then travel to Britain without undergoing further checks.

The Home Office threatened to impose the visa regime last July amid fears that South Africa was being used as a transit point by al-Qaeda operatives to gain entry to Britain. The South African government was given six months to introduce a range of improvements, including tin the ways that passports are produced, issued and stored.

Last year the FBI-style Serious Organised Crime Agency broke up a people smuggling ring which used false or stolen South African passports to bring more than 6,000 illegal immigrants into Britain.

Almost 420,000 South Africans entered Britain in 2007. They included 168,000 tourists, 46,200 on business, 52,800 in transit, 132,000 returning after absence abroad, 2,890 with work permits plus their 1,190 dependants. A total of 1,190 were refused entry.

Phil Woolas, Immigration Minister, said: “The Government said it would get tough and we meant it. Already our shake-up of border security is delivering results, with three million fingerprints taken from visa applicants and 3,000 people caught trying to hide their identity.”

Nationals of Bolivia, Lesotho, Swaziland and Venezuela will also need to apply for a visa even if they are visiting the UK for less than 6 months.