Arusha. The six member countries of the East African Community (EAC) are considering changes to their respective immigration rules.
This development comes almost eight years after a deal that was meant to recognise post-training certificates issued by the member countries failed to boost cross-border movement of professionals as originally intended.
Established as an economic bloc that aimed at leading to, and result in, regional economic integration and, finally, a fully-fledged East African Federation, the community is currently made up of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.
In the event, the six countries are contemplating functional regulatory and other frameworks that would not only allow, but also enable, professionals who are nationals of the EAC member countries to freely move across the common borders to engage in employment, research and related activities in countries of their choice.
Noting that several measures had already been taken to achieve the common objective of facilitating cross-border exchange of labour and services, officials at the EAC Secretariat in Arusha said that the measures had nonetheless largely failed in that objective.
These include the Common Market Protocol, put in place in 2010 to allow the free movement of Labour/Workers, Persons, Services, Goods and Capital, as well as the Rights of Establishment and Residence.
“We are working on a regulatory framework that recognises temporary movement of labour so as to enable professionals who (for example) want to relocate for just a few days to complete their projects,” said the EAC principal education officer, Dr James Jowi, adding: “We are also thinking of a regulation to govern joint contracts between local professionals and citizens of the other EAC states.” EAC member countries had given themselves up to December 2015 by which to have opened up jobs markets for their citizens within the regional bloc.
As that never happened on the ground as intended, concerns were raised just days after Tanzania caused an uproar by denying a work permit to Kenyan Sylvia Mulinge, a Safaricom employee, to take up a job offer as head of Vodacom’s operations in Tanzania.
During a media tour organised by the EAC and GIZ, some professionals asked the EAC member states to scrap work permit fees, recognise temporary contracts – and end the irritating habit of requiring foreign firms to partner with locals. They also called for the contracting member states to recognise their firms, and allow them to cross borders with technicians as a matter of course.
“The Common Market Protocol only assigns rights to professionals as natural persons; yet we work as consulting firms,” said Mr Michael Daka, managing director of the Kigali-headquartered Proess Consulting Engineers.
Mr Daka has worked in both Uganda and Tanzania – and clearly knows what he is talking about!