GLOBAL MOBILITY: DEPLOYING EXPATRIATES INTO AFRICA? EAST OR WEST AFRICA: WHICH IS WHICH?

I have been privileged to address a few forums on mobility into Africa well attended by Human Resource professionals and global mobility support teams. The question of how easy or difficult it is to deploy resources into Africa has always featured and I must say there is no instant coffee answer to that. In my most recent such forum in Edinburg Scotland in November last year, I learnt a lot from my colleagues overseeing South and West Africa Immigration practices.
Although there are a lot of similarities across Africa on how immigration is practiced, there are a few distinct areas worth mentioning. If for instance you are looking at deploying a resource in Africa quickly and you have a choice of say Kenya and Nigeria or Ghana then from what I learnt in that conference, Kenya would be the country to consider because you can easily get a short-term work authorization for up to six months as you decide on what to do next…. Should you decide to settle such expat in Kenya long term, you can also change his status to long term while still in country. This is not the status in either Ghana or Nigeria. If on the other hand, you are looking for certainty in terms of acquiring the immigration status for such a resource, then Ghana and Nigeria are the places to consider because in both countries, there is certainty on timelines once you apply. The Kenyan system, although the service charter for Kenya Immigration sets such timelines, in practice there is no certainty partly due to factors beyond the department of Immigration.
On the issue of the percentage of the number of expatriates a company can hire, again there is a difference in how Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria would do it. The Kenya Immigration laws and policies do not set a quota system for any industry. The Kenyanization policy only says that it is the position of the Kenyan government that the economy should be run by locals and that every application for a work permit must be justified on individual case. This is both good and bad. Good in the sense that as long as you can justify with requisite documentations then you will get a work permit for your expatriates. It is bad in the sense that even in cases where it is very obvious that an expatriate is required, you still have to justify. On the other hand both Nigeria and Ghana have quotas for some sectors of the economy especially Oil and Gas. This is also good and bad. Good to the extent that once you have your quota allocated then it is almost certain that you will get the desired work permits within your quota. Conversely, should you need more expats than your quota, you will have to hold your horses until such a time that you have to renegotiate your quota and convince the authorities on the same.
There are many such areas where immigration practice in East Africa differs with Immigration practice in West Africa but on the overall there are a lot of commonalities in both cases. For instance same-sex partners are not recognized as so in either jurisdiction. Gay couples whether in Kenya, Nigeria or Ghana cannot apply for say dependent pass. So if you are deploying expats, you may want to look into that. One last thing I also learnt is that it is not clear how to treat polygamous deploying into these jurisdictions. As you would know, most African cultures and Islam as a religion allows for polygamous marriage…Immigration laws though do not seem to anticipate that a polygamous man being deployed as an expatriate may travel with his three or four wives! I have asked my folks at Kenya Immigration what would happen if such a man applies for dependent passes for his three wives! They all looked at me with amazement and obviously with no clear position in law…this is similar to Nigeria and Ghana and many other jurisdictions as well….anyway, now you have some basic insights into some differences and similarities in Immigration practice in West and East Africa. Watch out for more soon….bye

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