EALA abolishes work permit fees

Members of the East African Legislative Assembly have passed a motion urging the East African Community (EAC) partner states to scrap work permit fees, a move that would facilitate free movement of labour, goods and services within the region.
Saadall (R) chats with Bageine during the council meeting. The New Times /Timothy Kisambira.
Saadall (R) chats with Bageine during the council meeting. The New Times /Timothy Kisambira.

Members of the East African Legislative Assembly have passed a motion urging the East African Community (EAC) partner states to scrap work permit fees, a move that would facilitate free movement of labour, goods and services within the region.

The lawmakers, sitting in Kigali, passed the motion after a debate with the Council of Ministers on Thursday.

Though earlier the mover of the motion, Bernard Mulengani, an EALA member from Uganda, had proposed for abolition of work permits, it was later agreed with the ministers to scrap only the fees and retain the permits for purposes of identification.

The chairperson of the Council of Ministers, Shem Bageine, said it was not possible to abolish the permits at the moment though it could be achieved as the integration process deepens.

“We can abolish the fees but permits should remain for identification. As the integration deepens, then we shall also remove the permits,” the minister said, calling for immediate implementation of the resolution by partner states to facilitate the free movement of East Africans within the region.

The issue of permit fees has always been regarded as a non tariff barrier that hinders the full operation of the Common Market Protocol that was signed to facilitate movement of labour in the region.

The fees charged to obtain work permits vary between partner states. For example, in Tanzania, a permit costs between $6.34 to  $3,000, while in Uganda, it’s from $250-$2,500.  Burundi charges between $ 60 and $84 for a regular worker.

During the debate, Rwanda’s Minister in charge of EAC affairs, Monique Mukaruliza, informed the lawmakers how Rwanda had waived the working permit fees for all citizens from the partner states with an aim of opening borders as stipulated in the Common Market Protocol.

The scrapping of work permit fees was first done between Rwanda and Kenya bilaterally, before Kigali later extended it to the citizens from the other partner states.

In Kigali, East African citizens need to apply for the permit but do not pay fees.

Though the resolution was endorsed, the challenge remains with its implementation by the partner states.

Before adopting the resolution, Tanzania’s Deputy EAC minister, Abdullah Saadall said there was a need to first harmonise the national laws.

 “Otherwise if harmonisation is not done, Tanzania has no intention of scrapping work permit fees,” Saadall said.

Citizens react

Francis Wahome, a Kenyan businessman in Kigali, welcomed the move, saying it would promote investments in the region. He said though he doesn’t pay the fees in Rwanda, it is harder to operate in other countries.

“It’s long overdue. Sometimes, we are afraid of starting businesses in other countries due to such hindrances but if they have decided to waive the fees it will absolutely help us.”

Henry Kamya, a Ugandan living in Kigali, pointed out that what is needed is to fasttrack the implementation to allow free movement of people for the benefit of the region.

James Ngarambe, an engineer working with City of Kigali, welcomed the development, but said it should be implemented in a way that promotes equal benefit to all the citizens.

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