Kenya locks out young and low-paid foreign workers
Posted Tuesday, July 10 2012 at 22:27
Kenya has shut the door on foreigners seeking permits for jobs that pay less than Sh168,000 per month or Sh2 million per year.
The move, which marks a major labour market policy change, also bars foreigners aged 35 years or less from being issued with work permits.
The changes are contained in fresh regulations that Immigration minister Otieno Kajwang’ has published in a special Kenya Gazette notice.
“The Director of Immigration Services shall not issue a residence or work permit to any person unless that person has … at his or her full and free disposition an assured annual income of at least $24,000 or its equivalent in Kenya shillings,” reads part of the regulations aimed at curbing the entry of foreigners into Kenya’s job market.
Senior Ministry of Immigration officials, who did not want to be named because they are not authorised to speak to the press, said the new regulations are particularly targeted at foreigners holding jobs that can be handled by Kenyans.
The new rules have also locked out expatriates from employment in the medical, real estate, engineering, accountancy and legal professions.
Expatriates wishing to practice in these professions can only gain entry as investors with green shoe operations or through joint ventures with locals but on condition that they have the required professional qualifications.
Green shoe operations refer to businesses that start from scratch.
Foreign investors eyeing opportunities in agriculture, mining and manufacturing sectors or consultancy work outside the professions will be issued with a special permit provided they have the requisite capital, qualifications and regulatory approvals for the intended projects.
Kenya’s labour market experts said the new rules are needed to preserve jobs for Kenyans as concern rises over the number of expatriates holding basic jobs such as driving and retail sales.
“The regulations are needed to prevent foreigners from taking jobs that can be done by Kenyans,” said Sammy Onyango, the chief executive of Deloitte East Africa.
“Expatriates are also important but we should engage them largely as investors or professionals coming in to offer rare skills and build local capacity.” It remains to be seen how the government will handle the thousands of skilled and semi-skilled foreign workers employed in key infrastructure projects such as road and housing construction.
If strictly applied, the regulations could particularly affect hundreds of Chinese working on Kenyan roads and who are known to earn much less than the threshold of Sh2 million per year.
United Nations agencies, embassies and local subsidiaries of multinationals such as East African Breweries, Nestle, Bharti Airtel and Safaricom, are the leading private employers of foreigners.
Expatriates working for foreign-owned firms usually hold senior positions such as executives or directors earning more than local staff in similar positions, partly due to higher allowances.
The regulations are in response to recent public concern over the rising number of expatriates – mainly from Asia – holding basic jobs such shop assistants or bulldozer drivers all of which can be handled by locals.