Despite existing processes being designed to optimally manage traveller demand at the country’s airports, the Department of Home Affairs (Interior) is concerned that it does not have sufficient staff to manage immigration, resulting in complaints about lengthy queues and delayed flights.

Department of Home Affairs Director-General Mkuseli Apleni, in a media briefing here Friday, said the department dealt with year-on-year increases in numbers of travellers as far as legitimate movements through the country’s busies airport, Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport, were concerned.

The average number of travellers cleared per month increased from 668,882 in 2015 to 669,621 in 2016. “We are currently managing a four-shift system per week reinforcing our day shift to deal with terminals experiencing a high volume of travellers,” he said.

“This still translates into a situation where more than 40 per cent of our immigration counters cannot be operational at peak periods, given limited staff capacity and the need to balance shift operations over a 24-hour cycle.”

The total number of immigration counters at OR Tambo International Airport is 87 and even with a 100 per cent staff attendance, not all the counters can be fully staffed. “A 100 per cent attendance is not attainable due to normal Human Resource factors,” he said.

The Department of Home Affairs has a mandate to ensure the effective and secure management of immigration and to facilitate the movement of persons through OR Tambo International Airport as one of its priority ports of entry.

“We are continuing stakeholder engagements to improve service delivery at OR Tambo International Airport through partnerships aimed at improving communication, addressing resource requirements and exploring technology solutions to effectively resolve the capacity constraints,” Apleni said.

In December 2015, the department introduced biometric capturing of travellers at four international airports — OR Tambo International Airport, Cape Town International Airport, King Shaka International Airport in Durrban and privately-operated Lanseria International Airport near Johannesburg.

Biometric capturing enhances the capacity to identify individuals and confirm the identity of travellers with the highest possible degree of certainty, security and efficiency.

As part of the biometric programme, the department is in the process of linking the movement of a child to an adult on the Movement Control System to ensure the continuous protection of children admitted to and departing from South Africa.

Apleni said the rollout at major identified land ports of entry was work in progress, but by the end 2016/17 it was projected that at least six high-volume ports of entry will be ready to assist travellers arriving from SADC states.