The East African Community (EAC) partner states established the EAC Common Market on July 1, 2010 which was a significant step in the EAC integration process.
In establishing the common market, the EAC expected to remove barriers and restrictions to facilitate free movement of labour, goods, and services across the region. However, three years since the signing of the common market protocol, the EAC is yet to experience free movement of labour goods and services, as earlier envisaged.
However, nationals of EAC partner states are still subjected to lengthy and often frustrating procedures of acquiring work permits. The five partner states (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda) still have different policies and procedures of acquiring work permits. The classification structure, application documents and fees required are all different. This has further complicated the administration of work permits and further prevented East Africans from enjoying the benefits of a common market. While commendable steps have been taken by some countries especially Kenya and Rwanda to waive work permit fees for all East Africans, the process of acquiring work permits is still cumbersome in some cases taking up to six months. In addition, immigration procedures in most of the East African Partner States obligate employers to explain why they need to hire foreigners (East Africans in this case) at the expense of the local citizens. Therefore, hiring of East Africans beyond their national borders has remained unattractive to most employers.
The current challenges facing the region stem from the fact that EAC Partner States have not yet realigned national immigration laws and policies to reflect provisions and requirements of the Common Market Protocol. Therefore, to the average East African citizen, the benefits of a common market have only remained a distant dream.
The Common Market Protocol compels all EAC Partner States to harmonise classification of work permit and forms, fees and procedures. However, more than three years since the protocol came into force, all EAC Partner states have been slow to harmonise relevant laws and policies to facilitate free movement of labour. For instance, partner states still have different classification for work permits. Tanzania has a total of 13 sub-classes, Uganda has nine, Kenya has nine, Rwanda has two, and Burundi has two. Work permit fees also vary from one Partner State to another. In Tanzania, for instance, work permit fees range from $200 (about Shs520,000) for missionaries, volunteers and students to $3,000 (about Shs7.8m) for the miners Large scale trade and business. In Kenya work permit fees range from $60 (about Shs155,000) for Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to $3,000 for miners. In Uganda work the fees range from $250 (about Shs649,000) for missionaries up to $2, 500 (about Shs6.4m) for miners. In Rwanda the fees range from $16.5 (about Shs42,000) for ordinary workers to $82 (about Shs213,000) for government diplomatic services while in Burundi work permit the fees range from $60 (about Shs155,000) for students to $84 (about Shs218,000) for regular workers. To make the common market a reality, partner states need to deal with disparities in wok permit requirements, administration, and application procedures. Absence of a uniform regime for administration of work permits in terms of classifications, fees, procedures hampers the proper functioning of a common market. EAC Partner States should establish a common work permit fee for non-EAC citizens and other foreign workers.
Mr Luzze is the executive director of East African Business Council