The East African Community Secretary General, Dr. Richard Sezibera, has called for the scrapping of work permit fees, saying it will fast-track regional integration.
Sezibera also noted that the move would greatly facilitate the movement of labour, goods and services and, ultimately, spur trade between the five member states.
“Rwanda has already scrapped the fees, Kenya and Uganda have indicated willingness to do so, though they have yet to fully commit themselves,” he said during recently concluded Second Secretary General‘s meeting in Nairobi.
He added that the EAC secretariat and partner states were looking for ways on how to get Tanzania get on board.
The issue of waiving off work permit charges in the EAC bloc has been a matter of debate for a long time, with some countries supporting it while others are hesitant.
Recently, Tanzania increased work permit fees by 33 per cent, bringing the charges to about $3,000.
In Uganda, work permit fees range from $250 (for missionaries) to $2,500 (for miners). Burundi charges between $60 (students) and $84 - for regular workers.
The Common Market Protocol still provides for work permits as a requirement for working in another partner state except in cases, where a partner state has waived off the requirement for East African citizens.
Workers will enter partner states by presenting their passports or national identification documentation at the point of entry, declaring the usual information and providing a contract of employment.
For jobs that will last less than 90 days, workers will need a special pass and for jobs lasting more than 90 days, a work permit.
“The idea here is to ensure that workers are not discriminated against on the basis of their nationality,” Peter Mathuki, a Kenyan East Africa Legislative Assembly MP, noted.
According to Sezibera, the idea is to create a community of one people living together and trading among themselves without trade barriers, so that they share economic interests as well as social aspects.
“How do you create this type of a community with some partner states still levying work permit fees? The will is there, but a lot more needs to be done,” he said.
Phyllis Kandie, the Kenyan Cabinet Secretary in charge of EAC affairs, argued that the need to achieve the social integration aspect of integration process can only be achieved by waiving off work permit fees.
Although consensus was reached in April to have work permit fees harmonised across the region, the situation remains unchanged.
Article 10 of EAC Common Market Protocol on free movement of workers, states that “the office responsible for employment in a partner state shall facilitate a citizen of another partner state who seeks employment in the territory of that partner state to receive the same assistance as would be accorded to a citizen of that partner state who seeks employment.”