SA to deploy API to vet visitors

South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs (DHA) is taking a leaf from the US Department of Homeland security in introducing API or Advance Passenger Information technology to verify the identity and desirability of foreign visitors seeking to lawfully enter the Republic.
This allows them to vet passenger names against the terrorist and other watch lists and automatically notify the airline to issue or not to issue passengers boarding passes.
The Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques, better known abroad as SITA – and not to be confused with SA’s State IT Agency – has installed the technology required for the US API system in SA.
SITA’s vice president for government and security, Thomas Marten predicted at the time that “in the long-run, other governments will follow the US lead and develop their own API systems…”
The DHA`s API will work in a similar way. The department says API will enable them to “pre-clear passengers”, thereby shortening the wait at points of entry and ensuring “that eligible visitors are welcomed into the country efficiently while also preventing undesirable visitors from even boarding at their countries of origin”.
API is one of a series of new immigration initiatives in support of the 2010 FIFA World Cup announced by the DHA this week.
Another is what the DHA says is the world`s “first-ever event visa”.
The department has also appointed and trained 161 new immigration officials. They will start work next Wednesday and have been posted to both OR Tambo International and Cape Town International Airports.
“Key to the programme was the strict criteria used to select immigration officers. They needed to demonstrate that they have integrity and can execute their duties with a sense of pride and security befitting the occupation,” the DHA says.
Meanwhile, spokeswoman Siobhan McCarthy says the turnaround programme the department is proceeding apace. A new organisational structure has been approved and a “migration plan that details how current staff will be moved into the new structure has been finalised and agreed upon with the Department of Public Service and Administration,” McCarthy says. “The trade unions have also agreed to the migration plan.”
McCarthy says in terms of the plan all current staff must be placed in the new structure before external candidates can be employed. “The department anticipates finalising the migration of senior managers (currently 56 officials) by end-January 2009.
“In the meantime over 600 of the critical posts which are either vacant or new to the structure have been advertised. Over 164 000 applications have been received. It is anticipated that the short-listing of these candidates will run concurrently with the internal migration of staff such that when all existing staff have been placed, external candidates can be placed in vacant positions.
“It is true that in order to achieve its mandate the DHA needs to employ more staff. The new structure represents an increase from 7500 positions to over 11 000. It is vital however that the migration to the new structure is managed such that institutional memory is not lost, key skills are retained and the right candidates are brought into the organisation” McCarthy says.  
The DHA is often slated as one of the most dysfunctional of SA`s government departments. Yet as “custodians of identity” they play a key role in the protection of national security and the fight against crime. The department last year in May embarked on a multiyear turnaround strategy, relying on both business process reengineering and information technology, to rebuild itself.