Wednesday May 23, 2018
by Abdi Latif Dahir
Help not needed. (Reuters/Joseph Okanga)
Kenya is toughening its stance against foreign workers, moving to
tighten the issuance of work permits and digitizing the records of
thousands of expatriates.
The government has issued
a 60-day ultimatum to all foreign workers to regularize their documents
or risk being deported. The ministry of interior has also begun a
registration and verification exercise aimed at creating a single
digital record that could help in annual immigration audits that would
identify undocumented workers. As part of the new processing, foreigners
will be expected to submit their original work permit, official
endorsement on a passport, a copy of their alien card, an official
payment receipt besides their tax registration details.
Cabinet secretary for interior Fred Matiang’i said those who failed to update their details “will be jailed.”
As an economically dominant and stable country in East Africa, Kenya
is a popular destination for aid workers, volunteers, and
non-governmental organizations, with expats from North America, UK and
Europe working in fields including human rights, media, maternal health,
The government says the latest move is part of a campaign to secure
the interest of Kenyan workers and to ensure foreigners aren’t taking up
jobs that citizens can already do. Matiang’i said there were 34,000
registered foreign workers issued with permits
even though there were thousands of others who weren’t registered. Yet
enforcing some of these tough procedures will be tricky given that
citizens of countries with powerful passports can easily travel to Kenya, stay and do business for the duration of their visas.
The new crackdown follows criticism from regulators two years ago who noted the international NGO community was not hiring Kenyans,
was paying foreign staff more than local employees, and was failing to
transfer jobs to locals. At the time, critics noted the clampdown
against NGOs and civil society echoed a repressive past when the government muzzled dissent and free expression.
On its end, the government has recently faced criticism for hiring 100 Cuban doctors, giving them better salaries than Kenyan medics, even while sidelining the plight of local medical professionals and health sector.
Across East Africa, Kenya is hardly the only nation trying to
restrict the employment of foreign workers. In Tanzania, president John
Magufuli’s government has cracked down on companies recruiting foreigners, including Chinese nationals, without adhering to stipulated labor procedures. Kenya’s neighbor, Somalia deported Kenyan workers in 2015 for snapping up skilled labor opportunities even as other foreign workers flood the country which is experiencing a post-civil war boom.