South Africa travel US
Latest US travel advisory (10 June 2021)
  • South Africa, along with almost 200 other countries, was placed at the highest risk level within the US State Department's travel advisory system back in April.
  • On Tuesday, South Africa's risk level was lowered, with US still urging its citizens to "reconsider travel".
  • This doesn't change the current travel ban imposed on South Africa.
  • But, coupled with a new direct flight from New York to Johannesburg, could see an influx of US tourists.
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The United States has updated its travel advisory bulletin for citizens wishing to visit South Africa after placing the country on its highest risk alert level back in April.  

The US Bureau of Consular Affairs has made sweeping changes to its international travel advisories over the past three months. Guided by data presented by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which analyses Covid-19 risks in other parts of the world, the US has incorporated health notices with travel advisories to warn its citizens of country-specific hazards.

This adjustment to the state department's travel advisory system was rolled out in April and saw nearly 200 countries – including South Africa – added to the Level 4 category. This highest risk level, also known as the "do not travel to" list, was applied to just 34 countries prior to the adjustment.

In addition to South Africa's coronavirus-related risks, the US warned that "violent crime, civil unrest, health risks, and drought" were prevalent in the country. This heightened risk rating was met with criticism from South Africans who argued that the advisory was alarmist.

In another round of changes to its travel advisory billboard on Tuesday, the US lowered South Africa's risk rating back to Level 3 which, instead of warning citizens to avoid all travel, urges visitors to "reconsider travel". Prior to the pandemic, South Africa was listed as a Level 2 risk, with US citizens told to "exercise increased caution" when travelling.

While the recent lowering of South Africa's risk level has removed warnings around drought and non-coronavirus health risks, crime, and civil unrest still form part of the main advisory.

"Violent crime, such as armed robbery, rape, carjacking, mugging, and 'smash-and-grab' attacks on vehicles, is common," notes the current travel advisory.

"There is a higher risk of violent crime in the central business districts of major cities after dark.”

The adjustment comes just one week after the US United Airlines began its new nonstop daily service between its New York hub at Newark Liberty International Airport and Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport.

South Africa travel US
Latest US travel advisory (10 June 2021)

The lowered risk level, which is more of a recommendation than a legal order, has the potential to attract US tourists to South Africa. Vaccinated US tourists do not need to quarantine upon their return to the country.

For South Africans hoping to travel to the US, however, the change in risk level and United Airline's new service means very little. Travellers from South Africa are still on the US' list of banned countries, alongside China, Iran, European Schengen states, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, and India.

South Africa was one of the first countries added to the"banned list" – largely because of the 501Y.V2 variant first detected in the Eastern Cape – back in January.

Since the travel ban was first imposed, several exemptions have been added to the presidential proclamation within the National Interest Exception (NIE) protocol. This allows certain South Africans, who are deemed beneficial to the US' "national interests", access into the country.

Temporary farm workers, students, au pairs, employees in "critical sectors", journalists, pilots, plane crews, and fiancé(e)s of US citizens have been included within the list of NIEs and may apply for specific visas.

(Compiled by Luke Daniel)

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