Expatriates earn millions working in Kenya illegally
As the dust settles on the unceremonious deportation of Miguna Miguna, the self-proclaimed ‘‘General’’ of the National Resistance Movement, Saturday Nation has learnt there are hundreds of foreigners leaving and working in the country illegally.
The expatriates, mostly from the United States, Europe and Somalia are attached to international charities and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) either operating in Kenya, South Sudan or Somalia but have their headquarters in Nairobi.
The NGO Coordination Board, a government body which regulates the sector, estimates more than 12,000 expatriates live in the country working on issues from human rights to maternal health and conservation.
The foreigners have found a clever way of evading local security dragnets to extend their welcome as they operate on their tourist visas instead of acquiring work permits.
The Director of Immigration Services Gordon Kihalangwa said he was not aware of such practices going on in the country and therefore could not substantially put a number to the foreigners exploiting tourist visas to work in Kenya.
He said the procedure is that a foreigner can only work in the country with a work permit or a special pass while awaiting the processing of the former.
“A tourist visa only allows you to visit and stay in the country for a specified moment but you need a work permit or at least a special pass to work in the country.”
On June 2016, the government announced it will only issue work permits to expatriates in instances where Kenyans lack the requisite skills and qualifications to undertake such jobs.
But the expatriates changed tack to take advantage of Kenya’s perforated security system to thrive years-on end without proper documents.
A case in point is an international charity organisation based in Nairobi’s Westlands but has programmes across the East African region.
The Saturday Nation has seen documents of more than five senior officials attached to the organisation.
The officers apply for tourism visas, which are valid for three months, then travel back to their countries and return on fresh visas.
“The top management of the organisation earn more than $400,000 (Sh40m) a month but since they do not have work permits their salaries are remitted to their bank accounts in their countries,” a source said.
“Some of these officers tried to apply for work permits but were denied because the government said there were thousands of Kenyans to occupy such positions, so they decided to come in as tourists,” he said, adding that the organisation only employs locals to occupy lower positions such as drivers and liaison officers.
The source further said that the foreigners sit for interviews before being sent in here to take up the plum jobs.
So, essentially the organisation are abetting the criminal act.
Initially, some of the officers tried applying for work permits but were denied after the government said there are many qualified Kenyans for the positions.
The officers therefore resorted to working locally while lying to the authorities they are here for tour.
Rtd Maj Gen Kihalangwa denied knowledge of such people saying if the information is credible they should be apprehended.
“If there are such people then we need to be informed for the department to act on them.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by the NGO Board in a circular dated April 21, 2016, claiming foreign workers on average earned four times their Kenyan peers.
“Yet they fail to transfer jobs to local workers, and instead stay on in Kenya as lifelong career expatriates,” the regulator said.
Former Foreign Affairs assistant minister and Kitutu Chache South MP Richard Onyonka blames the loopholes exploited by the foreigners on lack of stringent registration procedures at the borders, toxic corruption at the immigration department, bilateral agreement and lack of laws to regulate the entry of the foreigners.
Rtd Maj Gen Kihalangwa agrees a number of loopholes exist in the country that could be exploited by the foreigners, including dishonest employers, failure by citizens to report the foreigners and sheer taking of risks by the foreigners.
Mr Onyonka points out that the local security system is not watertight enough when it comes to the management and control of illegal immigrants.
He also says lack of incorporation of technology in the registration of the foreigners at the borders is problematic as it does not give the officials a system to track the foreigners and know what they are doing.
“My belief is we don’t have a database and we have not been maintaining strong data and entry system within the immigration department and that has been a major problem,” the former minister said.
He reckons toxic corruption at the Immigration department has also made it easy for the foreigners to cheat the system.
“Everybody knows that one of the most corrupt department in the government is the immigration one where foreigners can even get passports and identification cards,” the legislator pointed out, adding that Kenya has signed bilateral agreements with some countries to allow citizens from those countries to be in Kenya on tourist visas as long as they want without changing their status, thus creating a loophole often exploited by the foreigners.
“All the foreigners have to do is keep renewing the visas and they come right back,” he said.
Going forward, Mr Onyonka says the country must adhere to biometric system of registration of individuals to enable continuous follow up of the foreigners.
“This is why the government is introducing the new electronic passport where it will have certain features one cannot easily circumvent,” he pointed out.
Mr Jacob Nyaudoh, a security consultant, says allowing foreigners whose backgrounds and motives are not well understood pose threats to the country’s security.
“World over, terrorists employ agents who come as tourist to visit their target country to conduct reconnaissance before an attack,” observed Mr Nyaudoh.
Background checks, he says, should be conducted on foreigners and their information gathered before the embassy issues them with visas.
Mr George Mucee, an immigration expert and practice leader at Fragomen Kenya, says the immigration department has a capacity challenge to enable it properly reinforce crackdowns on runaway immigrants.
He also says the government loses taxes by hosting foreigners who do not have work permits.