Kenya is really cracking down on illegal expats this time

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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, and conservation.
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.