Charities, or NGOs, working in Kenya risk losing their licenses if they fail to comply with new tough rules about employing foreigners.
The authorities say that, with some exceptions, foreigners should not be employed if there are Kenyans who can do the job.
In a statement, the Ministry of Devolution announced that it will henceforth only issue work permits to expatriates in instances where Kenyans lack the requisite skills and qualifications to undertake such jobs.
“Take note that the board shall not issue any recommendations unless it is proven and or demonstrated that there are no Kenyans with the skills required available in the job market,” read the letter, making reference to the NGOs Coordination Board which monitors charities operating in the country.
Kenya has also accused some organisations of flouting the law by employing expatriates without proper work permits.
“There are expatriates working in the charity sector without valid work permits in total contravention of the Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Act 2012 and provisions of Section 17 of the NGOs Coordination Act 1990 and Regulation 28 of NGOs regulations of 1992,” the statement stated.
The government further criticised NGOs over the large disparity between what foreigners and Kenyans earn.
Research by the NGOs Board suggests that expatriates earn four times the salary of locals for doing the same job with comparable skills and qualifications.
The enticement of working for an NGO is evident in Kenya. Jobs in aid organisations in Kenya are seen as among the most lucrative due to the pay and benefits compared to other jobs.
For a long time, tensions have been brewing between Kenyan and foreign staff, as many locals are angry over what they see as unfair treatment.
Expatriate employees enjoy large allowances, security, housing, a vehicle and comprehensive attractive medical insurance.
Some Kenyan staff feel their colleagues are pampered.
“Expatriates are often too quick to dismiss dual salary systems as a non issue and the subject of wage disparities as a taboo topic in the charity sector,” the statement stated.
Tanzania immigration laws
The government feels the new restrictions are needed to safeguard the interests of Kenyans and has directed the Board and heads of NGOs to ensure strict compliance with the law on work permits.
Kenya follows in the footsteps of neighbouring Tanzania which in January this year introduced tough immigration laws in a move aimed at freeing up jobs for its citizens.
The Dar government launched a massive crackdown on foreign nationals who did not have both work and residence permits, with the Immigration department saying that only 680 foreigners possessed valid work permits at the time while only 66 had applied for residence permits.
Tanzania's move triggered outrage in Kenya amid complaints that many Kenyans, especially private school teachers, had been deported after authorities failed to renew their permits.
In Kenya, the NGO sector is estimated to employ 80,000 people. The country is a regional hub for NGOs, with aid agencies working in countries from Democratic Republic of Congo to South Sudan based in Kenya.