Members of Parliament from across the aisle have called on government to review the Visa application policy which they said it is scaring away potential investors. Debating the Appropriation Bill for the Ministry of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs (NIGA), MPs raised concerns that Visa application impacts negatively on attracting foreign direct investment (FDI).
Leading the debate, the MP for Selibe-Phikwe West Dithapelo Keorapetse said looking at the country’s Immigration Policy one can conclude that the country is xenophobic. “The gist of my argument, Madam Chairperson, is that contemporary Botswana Immigration Policy decisions, especially if you look at Prohibited Immigrant declarations, Visa restrictions and denials of residence and work permits to foreigners as well as ill-treatment of refugees have attracted a great deal of controversy,” hit out Keorapetse. He said most foreigners have been declared Prohibited Immigrant (PI) and it shows that on average two people are declared illegal immigrants. Keorapetse said that the number of visa, work and residence permits rejections have since the advent of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS). This, he said, is supported by the statistics which shows that by December 2016 work and residence permits approval, rejections stood at around 16 per cent.
“Madam Chairperson, our argument is that this policy must be reviewed forthwith. The DIS must be completely removed from dealing with issues of work and residence permits and Visa applications because they have become a very costly nuisance,” he said. The MP for Francistown East Buti Billy shared Keorapetse’ sentiments, advancing that it is difficult for investors to invest in Botswana as they are not sure whether their work, residence permits will be renewed. “When they renew their permits, sometimes they are rejected on the basis of security reasons. I believe that if the reason for the decline is based on security reasons, then that person ought to be informed of those security threats. You will find that the person has not even committed a single offence in the country,” said Billy, urging government to be friendly to citizens of other countries.
Tourists turned off
In the past the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism Tshekedi Khama raised a concern that Visa restrictions, especially vetting by DIS is affecting the tourism sector in the country. Billy concurred with this, noting that the delay in issuing visas to tourists affects their schedule; “therefore, you need to look into the quality of service that we give our customers.” Francistown South legislator Wynter Mmolotsi also raised a concern about the interference of DIS on issuance of Visas which he said has denied mostly pastors permits. “The painful thing about our country is that anyone who is a pastor or is religiously affiliated is not wanted by the DIS,” said Mmolotsi, who is also opposition chief whip.
BDP associates benefit
What is more painful about Visa, residence and work permits – according to Mmolotsi – is that those associated with the ruling party are granted permits in a blink of an eye. “They can be granted citizenship and in a few months chosen to be a treasurer in the BDP,” hit out Mmolotsi. Gaborone Central MP Dr Phenyo Butale said NIGA is one of the ministries inhibiting the country from performing well in attracting Foreign Direct Investment. “It is one of the Ministries which inhibit this country from having an independent and strong private sector based on the use of VISAs, through this issue of Prohibited Immigrant (PI) because it prevents investors from coming outside to create employment,” said Butale. Responding to the concerns, Minister Edwin Batshu said their responsibility is to implement the law while Parliament creates them. “Another thing which you have talked about is with regards to the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) that they could be doing what they are not mandated to do. I take those as advises because DIS has its own mandate and it needs to be advised where need arises,” he said in his response. One of the countries which have raised a concern about the issue of Visa, residence and work permits is China. Last year past immediate Botswana Investments and Trade Centre’s (BITC) Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Letsebe Sejoe revealed that foreign investors are still finding it hard to pick Botswana as an ultimate place to do business because due to complications associated with Visa and work permit. He said delaying in issuing them Visas results in frustrated investors ending up going to other countries such as Rwanda, which has built a more conducive environment for investors.
Economy not open
Sejoe, who recently left BITC, said Botswana is not an open economy like it is being portrayed to the world. “There are people who have been doing business in Botswana for over 30 years and government rejected their application for citizenship over the period and all of a sudden they were told to go” he said. Former President Festus Mogae has in the past also raised a concern about the country’s unwelcome attitude which he said it is counterproductive and not in the interest of the country. Mogae said that foreign investors are no longer feeling at home in Botswana as they can be deported at Willy nilly.
In 2015 Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China Li Nan did not mince words when talking about the ill-treatment of their citizens by Gaborone. Nan said Chinese businessmen are reluctant to come to Botswana due to its stringent immigration laws. “Botswana government usually sends delegates to China to woo our investors to come here but they are afraid because in Botswana one can be deported any time without any reasons,” said Nan. He said trade between Botswana and China has also suffered a deficit in the last three years due to Visa restrictions in Botswana. Chinese investors are very smart and won’t come to a country where one can be deported even when he has invested a lot in a country and not be given time to wind up his/her businesses, said Nan. Stopping short of saying Botswana government is petty, the Deputy Head of Mission, said that recently a Chinese businessman was deported for a crime he committed two years ago. “He was arrested for illegal fishing and fined and now recently was deported for that crime,” said the frustrated Chinese diplomat. There have been concerns from law enforcement agencies in Botswana, that some Chinese nationals are involved in some criminal activities especially ivory smuggling. In 2013 President Seretse Khama Ian Khama took a swipe at Chinese companies for compromising developments in Botswana. In an interview with Business Day, Khama is said to have complained that Botswana has bad experiences with Chinese companies and the influx of their nationals in Botswana. “We accept China’s goods. But they don’t have to export their population to sell us those goods. That we can quite ably do. They will crowd us out,” said Khama in an interview with Business Day.