The Ghanaian government has activated a condition in its immigration rules making it mandatory for all visitors without Ghanaian citizenship or ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) membership to submit an invitation letter along with their traditional visa application.
The rule, which came into force in July 2018, has sparked debate about the impact it could have on Ghana’s tourism sector. It has also fuelled discussion on whether the move could alienate those in the diaspora seeking to reconnect with their roots.
Interest in this debate has been further heightened by the Ghanaian government’s Year of Return 2019 initiative, which targets Africans in the diaspora, and those of African descent, and invites them to return to their Motherland to visit, do business or come to settle.
The invitation letter rule was issued by the Ghana Immigration Service (GIS), the government agency under the Ministry of the Interior, which is responsible for regulating the examination and authorisation of application for visas, entry and residence permits in Ghana.
The rule states that: ‘applicants on a VISIT to Ghana must provide a letter of invitation from their host in Ghana.’
The requirement appears to be an extension of existing conditions that apply to tour groups visiting Ghana. Sources working in Ghana’s hospitality and tourism sectors confirmed that for years, tour groups have been required to submit a letter of invitation along with their application. However, this has never been a mandatory requirement for people visiting Ghana as individuals (not part of a tour group) until July 2018.
The rule appears to differ depending on the applicant’s country of residence. However, at a basic level, visitors are required to state in the visa application form where they will be residing during their stay in Ghana, and need to submit a formal letter from a Ghanaian resident or institution. The Ghanaian national must state their address, name, wish to invite their guest, and show proof of their Ghanaian citizenship.
Level playing field
Some people polled by MisBeee Writes have welcomed the change, calling it a way for Ghana to level the playing field set by other countries.
“In implementing stipulations that other countries insist on, it is a way for Ghana to level the playing field,” a dual British-Ghanaian national resident in Ghana said, who did not wish to be named. “When we enter other countries’ borders we are forced to fill in lots of forms and provide lots of information – all with the risk that our visas could be rejected and our fees not refunded. Why shouldn’t we apply the same conditions?”
Others have, however, expressed frustration at the rule change, believing it was poorly communicated, could impact negatively on tourism, and unfairly ostracises people with Ghanaian heritage born or naturalised outside of Ghana.
A source, who regularly applies for a visa in London to visit family in Accra, said: “I think it is unnecessary and a waste of time because for those visiting family, they should always be welcome. I am of Ghanaian origin myself. Why should my parents write a letter of invitation when I have been visiting them previously on several occasions?”
A further concern has been that most people polled by MisBeee Writes were unaware of the recent rule change and were only alerted to it from friends that had applied for a visa.
“My Ghana visa expired and I had to pay loads to get a new one plus a letter of invitation from my mum,” a second source, who did not wish to be named, said. “I almost missed my flight and managed to check in one minute before closure, thanks to the amazing British Airways staff that helped me out. Nightmare!”
A third source, visiting Ghana from the UK, commented on what seemed to be a lack of consistent screening. Although this source obtained an invitation letter, this source was never asked to present it but still managed to receive a visa to Ghana. But another person also queuing for the same sort of visa, who failed to present an invitation letter, was denied a visa, the source noticed.
The rules on what visa applicants require vary from country to country, adding to the complexity. In the UK, applicants need to provide an invitation letter from a Ghanaian national that details proof of residence in Ghana. But there were no requirements in France (at the time of enquiring for the purposes of this article in November 2018), and in Germany the requirements are more expansive and include the following:
- a copy of the Ghanaian national’s passport,
- proof of residence in Ghana for the applicant,
- letter from present employer or educational institution confirming status. If self-employed, particular of business registration
- A bank payment transaction slip
Based on the rule change, it is unclear how a tourist would be able to enter Ghana if they do not have anyone willing to provide a letter. This has led some sources to express concerns about rules being flouted just to meet the new requirements. One source, who operates a beach-side motel in Ghana but did not wish to be named, said that prior to the rule being introduced, she had to deal with prospective tourists booking rooms but never turning up. Booking rooms at this particular motel does not incur a charge if the person does not turn up. As a result, the company is left with rooms booked online that are not occupied and that cannot be re-advertised until the online bookings expire.
The source said she suspected that those people were booking the rooms to meet immigration rules requiring visitors to detail their host arrangements. She was also concerned that the rule change could worsen the situation for her and others providing such accommodation.
“If the rules are made too stringent, tourists thinking of coming to Ghana may opt to visit another country instead “,… and that will result in Ghana losing visitors and money”, the source said.
The rule change also requires greater resource allocation to check and verify names and addresses being supplied are correct. Ghana is undergoing a process that aims to close the existing information gap that exists between people’s homes and postal addresses. The change is designed to make the process more efficient.
One source, who has visited Ghana in the past, told MisBeee Writes that he had used an old address as his place of stay without seeking permission or having any intention of staying there – to meet this requirement. A second source said she created an invitation and bogus name and address to meet the immigration requirements and had her visa issued without any problems.
Right of reply
GIS, the British High Commission, Ghana embassies in Germany, the Netherlands, the US and the consulate in Australia were all contacted to find out why the rule had been introduced; the reasons behind its implementation and the degree of public awareness attached to its introduction. GIS, the British High Commission, and embassies in Germany and the US have yet to respond, while the consulate in Australia responded but not to any of the questions asked.
The following questions were posed to the Ghana Embassy in the Hague in November 2018:
- When was this requirement introduced?
- Why is it being enforced now?
- How does a tourist who has never been to Ghana secure an invitation letter?
- British tourists need to get an invitation letter but German visitors need to provide many more pieces of evidence (passport ID from their host, proof of employment, proof of yellow fever, and official bank deposit slip) and at the moment – I believe – there is no requirement in France. Why are the requirements different?
The response from the Hague was as follows:
“The requirement of an invitation letter issued by an individual resident in Ghana to an individual outside Ghana seeking to visit the country is a primary and standard requirement in all visa issuing procedures for Ghana’s Missions abroad as well as Embassies or High Commissions and Consulates of other foreign countries in Ghana and around the world. Missions may have specific requirements and may enforce as may be required.
“It should be noted that proof of yellow fever vaccination, passport ID from host are standard visa requirements from all Embassies. Missions have unique requirements at any point in time and it is their sole prerogative to introduce, adhere or strictly adhere to visa regulations. The duty of visa applicants is to comply, as they would any other requirement from any other Embassy. They are not under any obligation to disclose this to visa applicants. Additionally, visa requirements can be reciprocal.”
While the reasons for the rule change still remain unclear, it has not stopped debate over the impact the rule change could have on Ghana’s tourism sector. Tourism contributions to Ghana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) remain in single figures but are clearly something the government wants to grow.
According to the World Travel and Tour Council, tourism in Ghana contributed 3% (Ghc5.9million or $2.1million) towards the country’s GDP in 2017. Comparatively, in the same year, agriculture accounted for around 20% of Ghana’s GDP, according to a document by data portal IndexMundi.
Business remains the major reason why visitors come to Ghana and this demographic is already required to submit an invitation letter from his/her host. But before 2011, the popular demographic was ‘overseas Ghanaians coming to the country for leisure and recreation or to visit relatives’, according to a report published in 2017 entitled ‘Trends in the Tourism Market in Ghana 2005-2014’ states.
The challenge now comes in the mixed message that this invitation letter requirement sends out. With Ghana expecting to receive 500,000 visitors (Ghana Tourism Authority figures) to the country during 2019, and the government doing its utmost to promote its Year of Return initiative, will those with an ancestral link to Ghana feel alienated by the rule?
During the January 2019 Year of Return press conference, an African-American woman, who had relocated to Ghana, went one step further than the invitation letter debate and challenged the government to scrap visas for all Africans of the diaspora altogether. Her argument was clear, if we were stolen from this land in the first place, why do we have to seek permission to return?
To keep reading articles like this, click Space for change in Ghana’s tourism sector
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