In recent times, there have been reports and claims of foreigners in Kenya taking jobs or business opportunities ‘meant for’ original citizens.
Media ‘exposés’ about Chinese nationals in Gikomba Market selling mitumba (second-hand clothes), Egyptians hawking utensils across the country and Tanzanians setting up businesses in Nairobi are some of these reported incidents.
Around mid-2018, the government embarked on a much-publicised verification of foreigners in Kenya. Initially, Interior Secretary Fred Matiang’i said there were more than 100,000 foreigners in Kenya, most of them illegally or doing jobs that Kenyans are qualified to do. At the end of the exercise, the figures were placed between 30,000 and 40,000 foreigners living in Kenya on valid permits. This was significantly below what Dr Matiang’i had anticipated.
What came out of this exercise is that the country does not have accurate data on foreigners residing in Kenya.
However, there still is a need to tighten immigration controls in the wake of increasing global terrorism threats. To this end, the government has put in place a restrictive immigration regime over the last two years.
The big question, however, is — are we directing our energies to the wrong problem?
The focus has been more on those who are lawfully applying for passes or permits to allow to work or invest in Kenya. The adjudication on these applications has been ‘tightened’ with increased rejections and more documentations required from the applicants.
Many cases are rejected, and the reasons given are that the jobs they are applying for can be done by qualified Kenyans.
Granted, every country is within its right to decide on how to deal with its immigration and citizenship laws. But the decisions need to be measured against a backdrop of accurate data and sound strategies in the age of a globalised world.
It is estimated that more than three million Kenyans live in the diaspora and every year they remit hundreds of billions back home. In 2018, they sent home about Sh280 billion and the figure is increasing daily.
Kenyans in the diaspora range from top professionals in blue chips to househelps in the Middle East.
A large number of these Kenyans, especially in the US and Europe are illegal immigrants but that has not stopped them from eking out a living and sending their earnings back home. Should this also inform how we look at foreigners applying for passes or permits in Kenya? These Kenyans in the diaspora are not doing anything citizens of the countries they reside in cannot do.
If we contrast that with the number of foreigners in Kenya either for work or business, then it is hard to argue that they are taking up jobs and opportunities because Kenya is a source of many migrant workers and that it may not be in its best interest to shout aloud about foreigners in the country.
The most successful countries are known to welcome foreigners. America is what it is today because of immigrants, the Middle Eastern countries like UAE, Qatar and are known to have as much as 80 percent of their working population comprising migrants.
Immigration, if well thought out, could be a big source of foreign direct investment and Kenya’s policymakers should take time to reflect about it.