African Union, AfDB recommend streamline to visa policies for African citizens

Panel discussion during the 2022 Africa Visa Openness Index (AVOI) report launch. [Courtesy AfDB Group]

The African Union in collaboration with the African Development Bank have recommended generous visa policies for African citizens.

The two institutions say that streamlining the visa process is one way of ensuring that visitors can move through border controls smoothly and securely.

To do this, countries can reduce the documents, fees, and time necessary to obtain a visa. They can move to eVisas, issue visas on arrival and they can eliminate visas altogether.

In the 2022 Africa Visa Openness Index (AVOI) report, although close to half of countries have adopted a more liberal visa policy for African travellers since 2016, and a large number of the top performers added an eVisa to their electronic border systems,  close to half of countries with a low visa openness score do not offer a visa on arrival to visitors from elsewhere on the continent and the number of those countries rose by 5 per cent over the last year.

The report that ranks Kenya at position 28, for the first time since the 2016 launch many countries backslid on their ranking over the year.

In 2017, Kenya ranked position 15 on the continent as one of the countries that allows free movement of people across the country's borders with limited restrictions.

But the latest report notes that only nine countries offered visa-free access or a visa on arrival to all African visitors in 2021, down from 11 countries in 2020.

Just under half of the continent’s countries offered visa-free access or a visa upon arrival to the citizens of at least one other African country. More Africans than before must now obtain a visa before travelling.

Benin, The Gambia, and Seychelles are 2021’s top performers. All the three countries offered visa-free access to all African visitors in 2021, as they did in 2020.

Over half of the top 20 performers have ratified the AfCFTA Agreement, signed up to the Single African Air Transport Market, and signed the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons. Only Rwanda has ratified the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons.

In total, nine African countries offer liberal access (visa-free access or a visa on arrival) to all Africans (down from 11 countries in 2020, 10 in 2019, 11 in 2018, 10 in 2017, and 13 in 2016).

As a result, the AU and AfDB in recommendations said in this new era of travel, safety and hygiene protocols have become as important as travel documentation and visa formalities.

The report indicates that even as the continent strategises for post-covid recovery plan, getting the continent to move safely again needs a continental push on all these fronts.

In the end, free movement is central to Africa’s recovery from the crippling effects of the pandemic.

“Allowing businesspeople, investors, tourists, students, and workers to travel across the continent with ease will revitalize African economies and re-energize panAfrican unity,” read part of the reports' recommendations.

It said Africa’s rising young population is poised to take charge of the continent’s future and thus all young people need, is the freedom to move around the continent and support as they develop into Africa’s entrepreneurs and business leaders.

Visa Openness solutions

The two instutions in the report recommend visa on arrival approach or the establishment of visa-free regional blocs, a multi-year visa after an applicant has been assessed and positive reciprocity (countries relax visa requirements for each other’s citizens).

The report further recommends an unilateral opening of the visa regime, a simpler visa process that includes fewer documents, lowering of fees, faster processing times, online applications and more focus on eVisas.

African countries should further share more visa-related information online, which should be available in different languages.

According gto the recommdendations, as part of travel documents solutions, the regional economic communities should strive to have a regional passport or national identity card for regional travel.

For instance, those in the business sector can be kissued with an African passport for businesspeople, issued by a competent authority following to strict criteria.

The AU should develop the African Union passport for all African citizens, issued by national authorities using the criteria rolled out by the African Union in 2016.

In an innovation, the report provides an analysis of free movement of persons at regional economic community level in Africa.

According to the report, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the East African Community are the most open communities, with ECOWAS hosting eight of the top ten countries.

With regards to Open reciprocity where two countries reciprocating each other’s open visa policy, it fell by 1 percentage point in 2021, from 20 per cent to 19 per cent.

Closed reciprocity—two countries applying similarly restrictive visa policies for each other’s citizens rose by 5 percentage points, from 27 per cent to 32 per cent.

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