Tanzania expels EAC immigrants, hikes fees

Saturday September 21 2013

Life is increasingly becoming difficult for East Africans living in Tanzania.

An ongoing crackdown on immigrants in Tanzania is fuelling fresh doubts about the country’s commitment to the East African Community as Tanzania and its partners within the bloc continue to pull in different directions on regional integration.

The exercise, analysts and integration officials said, has hurt workers from other EAC countries who are now being forced to seek work permits — at a cost of $2,000 each.

What is worse, the applicants have to wait for up to five months to obtain the documents, meaning they have no choice but to leave the country.

As part of a move to abolish non-tariff barriers in accordance with the EAC Common Market Protocol, the regional bloc has been seeking a common stance regarding the issuance of work permits, which are currently cumbersome. However, the absence of a legally binding framework has meant that the implementation is largely at the discretion of member states.

Recent trilateral agreements between Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda have seemingly isolated Tanzania and Burundi. Burundi, however, sent a ministerial delegation to the last heads of state meeting of the so-called coalition of the willing in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa.


The isolation issue is expected to top the agenda at the EAC’s Heads of State Summit in November.

READ: Tanzania’s anger over isolation by neighbours

Tanzania has been left out of several meetings, the latest being a Kigali meeting where officials from Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda met to discuss among other issues, a single tourist visa.

Currently, each country has its own classification structures, forms, fees and procedures regarding the issuance of work permits.

At $2,000 each, Tanzania has the most expensive work permit, with complicated regulations that emphasise immigration control measures at the expense of work related measures, said a May 2013 survey by the East African Business Council (EABC).

Uganda charges $250 per year for work permits for missionaries, volunteers and students and $1,500 for businessmen and consultants.

Kenya, which initially waived fees for East Africans, has since reintroduced a $1,976 charge on job seekers aged under 35.

Rwanda continues to keep its borders open to East Africans by waiving work permit fees for EAC citizens. Burundi charges three per cent of the annual gross salary of its foreign workers (including EAC partner states) for a work permit.

Mathew Tsamenyi, chief executive officer at the EABC, said although Tanzanian authorities have the right to conduct a crackdown under the EAC Common Market Protocol, the disparities in procedure among member states and the long bureaucracy in obtaining the all-important document is harming the business climate.

Tanzanians have long been wary of foreigners dominating the job market in the country and denying locals a chance at employment, but an analysis of official figures from Tanzania’s National Bureau of Statistics reveals that such fears could be unfounded.

The Employment and Earnings Survey 2012 published by the NBS shows that foreign workers in Tanzania make up just 0.9 per cent of the labour force, with the majority of non-citizen workers concentrated in the education, manufacturing, construction, hotels and wholesale and retail trade sectors. Tanzanian citizens comprise the other 99.1 per cent of workers, and similarly made up 97.6 per cent of new workers hired in 2012.

Just over 1,200 Kenyans found new jobs in Tanzania last year, according to the survey, making up 1.7 per cent of new workers hired in the country. For Ugandans, the figure was 230, making up 0.3 per cent of new workers, with workers from other countries constituting the remaining 0.3 per cent.

But Tanzania suffers a skills shortage in many sectors. With a labour force of about 1.3 million in the formal sector, nearly 10 per cent of posts were vacant — the report indicates there were just over 126,073 vacancies in 2012.

The crackdown is expected to hit the education sector particularly hard — about 10,000 Kenyan teachers are estimated to be working in the country, and many of their jobs are now on the line as lengthy and expensive procedures make it difficult to obtain work permits.

Ironically, the data from the NBS reveals that the biggest shortage is in the education sector, which had 54,828 vacancies waiting to be filled in 2012.

Teachers able to instruct in English are in high demand, as more and more parents opt to send their children to English-medium private schools to gain an edge in the global economy where English is the lingua franca.

The other sectors with significant vacancies are public administration, defence and social security (36,532 posts) and health and social work (19, 052 posts).

The government has defended the move to expel illegal immigrants, saying the state only wants procedures to be followed. “Yes, we need teachers, but formal procedures should be observed. That’s the modus operandi anywhere in the world,” said Assah Mwambene, director of Tanzania Information Services, whose department is the government mouthpiece on major policy issues.

When asked if the crackdown on immigrants does not defeat Tanzania’s commitment to free movement of labour within the EAC, Mr Mwambene said all five-partner states are still sovereign countries with their own procedures for non-citizens to work or do business.

“People tend to cite the Kenya and Rwanda deal where the two partner states’ citizens are free to move across their borders, but that is a bilateral arrangement. Tanzania does not have such an agreement with any EAC partner state yet,” Mr Mwambene said.

But Peter Mathuki, a Kenyan representative in the East African Legislative Assembly said the move is against the spirit of EAC integration.

“Why is Tanzania the only country in the region carrying out the crackdown?” asked Mr Mathuki, adding that the matter will be raised in the next EALA sitting this month in Bujumbura. “This move is frustrating the efforts in place to allow free movement of labour and services in the Community.”

Additional reporting by Adam Ihucha and Christabel Ligami