A statement on the website of the South African Embassy in Russian confirmed the amendment from the beginning of this month, while Russia has been added to the 90-day visa exemption list on the Department of Home Affairs' website, joining source markets such as the EU countries, Brazil and Japan.
Welcoming the news, Jens von Wichtingen, Director of Cape Studies, told StudyTravel Magazine, "The Russian market is absolutely new for us; we admit that we have very much ignored this huge market up to now due to the fact that it was very difficult for clients from Russia to get tourist/study permits for South Africa."
He continued, "This recent fascinating development should dramatically increase our enrolments from Russia," adding that South Africa now had one of the simplest entry regimes for Russian ELT students among the English language destinations, and that flight costs between Moscow and Cape Town were reasonable and that the exchange rate was currently favourable.
South Africa's ELT sector has been struggling in the last two years due to an impasse over whether language schools should be designated as learning institutions, an issue recently resolved by an agreement between language school association Education South Africa (EduSA) and the Departments of Home Affairs and Higher Education Training.
The dispute led to large decreases from source countries that needed some form of visa to enter South Africa, but declines were less severe from markets that can enter South Africa visa free for 90 days.
Johannes Kraus, Chair of the association, said, "EduSA is very happy to report that Russian passport holders will be able to receive a 90-day visitor visa for tourist and business purposes at any port of entry to South Africa.
"Since our court proceedings made it official that students are permitted to study at language schools with a visitor visa, this is great news our industry desperately needs. EduSA schools will happily grow our business relationships, especially with language travel agents in Russia."
Anastassia Romanenko, Managing Director of Insight-Lingua agency in Moscow, told StudyTravel Magazine she welcomed the new announcement. "It is a great positive change for us that Russian travellers no longer need a visa to South Africa for a short-term stay, especially after the last couple of years when we had visa problems with them - the language schools were not recognised as 'learning institutions' and students were refused visas even for short-term courses."
She said she was not expecting South Africa to become "super popular" as it was more of an exotic destination for more experienced travellers. "But, of course, this will help us to offer South Africa more often to our students, also as an option that doesn't require so much paperwork as well as a fantastic adventure destination."
Sergey Kuzminstev, Deputy Director at Students International agency, predicted, "Certainly there will be growth of interest to this country, but not big." He said it was mostly a destination for students that had already visited a lot of countries and wanted to visit a new one, or "romantics who dream to see the Cape of Good Hope and Table Mountain".
By Matthew Knott