JOHANNESBURG - South Africa is issuing visas free of charge to World Cup ticket-holders in a bid to entice more foreign fans to snap up unsold seats.
Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba told Reuters that visa fees, normally costing 425 rand ($57), would be waived for fans who held a ticket.
"Visas will be issued free of charge to anybody who possesses a FIFA World Cup ticket or the certificate that proves that they have purchased their ticket.
"These visas will be provided in South Africa's foreign missions and we have made available these visas to about 112 missions abroad," Gigaba said in a telephone interview.
World Cup organisers launched a drive last week to sell hundreds of thousands of tickets - many of them returned from abroad or by corporate sponsors - before the tournament begins on June 11.
Estimates for the number of foreigners coming to South Africa for the World Cup, first to be held on the continent, have recently been sharply reduced from 450,000 to 200,000.
Nationals of countries who do not need visas to enter South Africa, like Britain, will be unaffected by the new scheme.
"It is the first time it is happening in the world. No other country has done something like this and its specially designed around facilitating easier travel for the World Cup," ministry spokesman Ricky Naidoo said.
Gigaba dismissed concerns expressed on radio phone-in programmes and elsewhere that foreigners would use the free visas to enter the country and stay on after the World Cup.
"We should as South Africans be preparing to welcome all the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected to come and watch the the World Cup, " Gigaba said.
"But instead of doing that some of us are busy obsessing about people who will not be returning to their countries ...this is wholly inappropriate, it goes against the grain of us having made the bid to host the World Cup in the first instance."
He said anybody who overstayed their visa would be tracked down and deported in the normal way.