14 September 2022 by Competition Law Alert

CCC notes concern with visa processing conditions

In a press release on 8 September 2022 (Notice), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Competition Commission (CCC) raised concern that the visa processing companies acting on behalf of embassies and diplomatic missions in COMESA member states are imposing stringent conditions on visa applicants

Including but not limited to:

  • holding passports of applicants for long periods, sometimes up to 45 days, and thereby curtailing applicants’ movements to other countries;
  • processing visas in a longer period than the time indicated on the visa forms and at times going beyond the expected time of travel, thereby causing applicants to miss out on planned activities;
  • scheduling appointments for visa applicants on dates that are very close to or past the time of travel; and
  • asking applicants to pay visa fees as high as USD 179 before allowing them access to select dates for interviews which may not be available before their travel dates.

A link to the Notice can be found here.

In the Notice, the Registrar of the CCC iterates that the scope of the COMESA Competition Regulations, 2004 (Regulations) as provided for under Article 3, covers all economic activities whether by private or public persons, within or having an effect within the common market and conduct that has an appreciable effect on trade between member states.

In addition, the CCC has differentiated between the administrative services and corresponding fees charged by the visa processing companies and highlighted that these fees may be considered costs for services, however, the courier services charged for by the visa processing companies is an economic activity conducted as a business to make profits and therefore the visa processing companies are considered to be “undertakings” for purposes of the Regulations and COMESA Competition Rules.

Consequently, the visa processing companies acting on behalf of the embassies and diplomatic missions are attributed to COMESA, undertake economic activities in the COMESA region, are under the purview of the CCC, and are subject to the Regulations.

Furthermore, Part 5 of the Regulations mandates the CCC to monitor and investigate unfair business practices against consumers with regard to false or misleading representation, and unconscionable conduct, among other prohibited practices. The CCC, therefore, notes with concern that the highlighted conduct of the visa processing companies may be deemed as misleading or unconscionable and a possible violation of the Regulations.

In the Notice, the CCC “requests embassies and diplomatic missions to review the practices of their service providers given that the stringent conditions imposed violate the Regulations and increase the costs of securing visas making travel expensive which ultimately erodes the welfare of consumers”.

It will be interesting to see what measures the embassies and diplomatic missions will employ with respect to their service providers and whether the CCC will, in light of the Notice and recent rumblings by travellers in respect of the inordinate delays in visa processing, see an increase in consumer complaints cases. 

Separately, attention should be paid to the response from embassies and diplomatic missions which typically enjoy a form of immunity, following the CCC’s Notice, which seems to intimate that the Regulations have in fact already been violated.

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