Matt Salusbury asks Torrique Borges why South Africa is becoming a popular language travel destination for Latin American students
First of all, why choose South Africa as a destination?
South Africa is a wonderful country with a number of advantages for students from Latin America. The cost of living is much lower than in the developed world, while still retaining a good quality of life – it is a good value-for-money destination.
A number of countries’ nationals in Latin America can travel to South Africa visa-free, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. South Africa is very easily accessible for these nations and TAM airline will be offering a new route from São Paulo to Johannesburg towards the end of 2016, bringing the cost of air travel down. Besides the climate, South Africans have a warm and embracing culture which Latin Americans can identify with.
As a destination, South Africa is a unique location which allows students to experience the country while studying. Our rich and tainted history allows for cultural enrichment. The country has mountains, savannahs, deserts, beaches and oceans, with unique wildlife.
I understand there were some serious issues around visas for courses of study at language schools after an immigration shake-up in 2014, with no avenue available through which language schools could accredit with the programme.
The visa issue has still not been resolved and it is still very complex and sensitive. The national English language school association, EduSA, has had high-level engagement with both the Department of Home Affairs (immigration) and the Department of Higher Education and Training with regard to the visa issue. No solution has been forthcoming.
Colombia has been a victim of the new visa regime but, luckily for us, other parts of Latin America are visa-exempt and students may obtain their visa stamp on arrival in South Africa. We are not so fortunate in other regions, particularly Africa, Asia and the Middle East, where students tend to need longer to study English and cannot obtain the necessary visas.
The Technical and Vocation Education and Training process has been discarded by most language schools as this requires an institution to offer diploma-level courses, not something practical for schools teaching English to foreigners. Schools have had to adjust their business models to compensate for lower student numbers.
Numbers from Brazil have declined over the past two South African summers. A lot of this has to do with the current state of the Brazilian economy. I am optimistic that numbers from Brazil will continue to increase in the medium term. Besides having a lot of similarities, South Africa has a good relationship with Brazil, and South African Tourism invests heavily in the country. From an English study point of view, South Africa offers a desirable alternative to the more traditional EFL destinations.
Before the visa debacle, the number of Colombian students was on the rise, the second-biggest Latin American ELT student provider after Brazil. We also receive students from Argentina. These are the primary Latin American markets for South Africa.
Volunteering is also increasing in popularity among Latin Americans who would like to volunteer their time to wildlife in need or to the vast number of social projects in South Africa.
For current university students or recently graduates under 25, there is a special one-year working visa.
The South African ELT sector is ambitious and hungry for new markets. There is definitely both capacity and expertise in South Africa to accept and train Cuban students. South Africa hosts a massive number of African students studying at our tertiary institutes. Most of these students first attend an English language school prior to starting their tertiary education so our ELT sector is well-versed in preparing international students for university education.
Torrique Borges is vice-chair and head of marketing for EduSA and general manager of LAL Cape Town language school