Ireland has announced the end of visa-free travel for South Africa and Botswana. Helen McEntee, the Irish Minister for Justice, dropped this bombshell on us yesterday, 9 July, confirming that, effective from tomorrow, 10 July, citizens of these two countries will need a visa to enter the Emerald Isle.

The Why Behind the Bye? According to Irish Ambassador to South Africa Austin Gormley, the new visa requirements are part of an effort to “bring Ireland into closer alignment with the Schengen Area in respect of both of these countries.” 

“Irish visa requirements are kept under ongoing review, having regard for the need to ensure that effective immigration controls are in place,” said Gormley. (Translation: there have been more asylum applications from travellers with South African passports, including individuals from Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, than Ireland is comfortable with.)

This year alone, Ireland has received 198 asylum applications from South African passport holders. “A wide range of factors are taken into account when introducing visa requirements to ensure we can continue to facilitate travel with processes that are robust, effective, and fair,” according to McEntee. 

If you’re one of the unlucky few who already had plans to enjoy the Irish summer, don’t fret just yet. There are transitional arrangements in place for those who have already made travel arrangements. You have until 9 August, 2024 to enjoy visa-free travel, after which you’ll need to join the queue.

With the sudden need for visas, Ireland has established a South Africa Desk in Dublin and will open three new visa processing centres in South Africa, managed by VFS Global.

Ambassador Gormley was quick to clarify that this move wasn’t a snub to the South African-Irish friendship. “Ireland enjoys very strong bonds with South Africa and friendship… please be assured that the warm Irish welcome will continue to be there,” he emphasised. So, while we might have to jump through more hoops to get to Ireland, at least the Guinness will still be waiting for us.

South Africa’s International Relations Minister Ronald Lamola and his counterpart in home affairs, Leon Schreiber, are already tackling the issue with the Irish government. Crispin Phiri, Lamola’s spokesperson, said, “Both Dirco (international relations) and home affairs will engage with the Republic of Ireland to comprehensively address the concerns raised.”

Hopefully, we’ll get our payback on the rugby field this Saturday by beating Ireland again, just like we did last week.