Companies with cross-border operations are pushing for standard work permit regulations in the five East Africa Community member states to ease movement of labour.
The common rules would see member states adopt similar classification for immigrants with each category attracting uniform fees from June this year.
“The Council (of ministers) should direct the commencement on the harmonisation of work permit regimes across EAC such as having uniform work permit classes, common work permit fee for EAC citizenry and foreign,” the region’s CEOs said in a statement.
The firms are pushing for the changes under the Secretary-General’s CEO Forum which brings together chief executive officers in the region under East African Business Council (EABC).
The CEOs will hold a similar forum with top EAC secretariat officials in Kampala next Wednesday— the sixth time since April last year when the secretariat outlined its agenda in Nairobi— before finally meeting the bloc’s chairman, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
Unlike the Nairobi meeting where they discussed reforms in general terms, the CEOs have zeroed in on uniform work permits and ease of movement for suppliers of services as some of the changes they want in place by June.
After its meeting held in Burundi in October last year, the EAC secretariat formed a taskforce to specifically focus on easing movement of suppliers of services like accountants, engineers, doctors and other consultants.
“We felt that movement of suppliers of services should be removed from labour which has different connotations for countries in the region,” said Patrick Obath, chairman of Kenya Private Sector Alliance and a director of EABC.
A harmonised work permit regime is likely to hurt Kenya most, being the country that charges highest fee on foreigners that comes into its territory.
The country has since offered to waive fees on nationals of EAC states that grant its citizens similar treatment but work permits remains an important source of revenue at the immigration department.
Kenya has work permit classification ranging from A to M where foreign national posted to work in the country (class D) pay Sh200,000 for the document and additional Sh10,000 for processing it.
Foreigners who come to prospect in minerals pay Sh250,000 and processing fees of Sh10,000 to obtain class A work permits.
Investors in agricultural projects (class B), consultancy services (class G) and investors who derive from outside the country (class K) have to pay Sh100,000 and a processing fee of Sh10,000 of work permits.
By comparison, Tanzania has only three classes for work permits A, B and C with foreign formal workers posted into the country (class B) being asked Sh52,200, self-employed foreigners (class B) pays Sh139,000. For class C work permits (missionaries and students), Tanzania only charges Sh8,700.
On the other hand, Rwanda has only two categories of work permit being charged Sh7,000 (RWF50,000) for class A targeting foreigners whose monthly gross remuneration is at least RWF 500,000 (Sh71,430).
Rwanda’s category B work permit costs Sh1,430 (RWF10,000) and targets foreigners whose monthly gross remuneration fall below RWF500,000.
Uniform immigration rules and free movement of services were the hallmarks of the EAC Common Market protocol which is yet to be implemented.
Only Rwanda out of the five members of the bloc has amended national laws.
“We acknowledge that each of the five countries has its own issues that will make free movement of people quite difficult to achieve,” said Mr Obath.