The number of work permits for foreigners increased in 2018, signalling the hiring of more expatriates in an economy that registered fewest formal jobs in the last six years.
The Immigration Department issued 9,465 permits last year, a 13 percent increase from the 8,366 in 2017, the Economic Survey 2019 shows.
The increase is linked to a government directive requiring all foreigners wishing to work in Kenya to acquire work permits before they travel to take up their new jobs in the country.
This comes at a time when new jobs created in the formal sector dropped 31 percent to 78,400 from the 114,400 in 2017.
This is the slowest pace of formal job growth since 2012 when the economy churned out 75,000 official jobs.
“The number of foreign nationals registered increased from 29,318 in 2017 to 32,332 in 2018, representing a 10.3 per cent increase while work permits issued and work permits renewed increased by 13.1 and 20.9 per cent, respectively,” says the Economic Survey 2019 released on Thursday.
The 9,465 work permits issued last year are however yet to match the high of 10,540 issued in 2014, before declining to 7,683 in 2015 and further to 5,851 in 2016.
The Kenyan economy last year created 840,600 (formal and informal) jobs, a 7.6 percent dip from 909,800 the previous year.
The decline is despite a pledge by the President Uhuru Kenyatta-led government that it would generate one million jobs every year.
The drop in the number of formal jobs is a blow to job seekers, especially the close to one million young people who graduate from various educational institutions every year.
Kenya in 2012 shut the door on foreigners seeking permits for jobs that pay less than $2,000 (Sh201,000) per month or Sh2.4 million per year.
The new rules locked out expatriates from employment in the medical, real estate, engineering, accountancy and legal professions unless employed in a business that start from scratch.
The regulations were particularly targeted at foreigners holding jobs that can be handled by locals in an economy struggling to create new jobs for growing number of university graduates.
The tighter immigration rules came as the private sector struggled to create new jobs.
Kenya labour markets experts said the new rules were needed to preserve jobs for Kenyans following concern over the increasing number of expatriates holding basic jobs such as driving and retail sales persons who had no specialised skills.
In May last year, Interior Secretary Fred Matiang’i launched a crackdown targeting more than 4,000 illegal immigrants in the country.
The government asked all foreigners working to undergo fresh registration with an aim of fishing out those who are in the country illegally.
Dr Matiang’i said the move was aimed at curbing mischief by foreigners who come into the country as tourists before using proxies to get work permits.