Frequently asked questions regarding work permits

Nyakio Manga

By Nyakio Manga, Partner, Corporate Commercial

Obtaining immigration permits for expatriates is a common challenge for Kenyan employers. Below is are some of the frequently asked questions by employers and expatriates regarding the application process.

Q: Is it possible to apply for a visa or work permit online?

A: Yes. The Immigration Department has recently established the Electronic Foreign National Service (“eFNS”) platform through which all visa applications should be submitted before travel. Payment of visa fees may now also be made through credit card or mobile money. All updates on permit applications will now be communicated by the Immigration Department to all applicants electronically. However, despite the launch of the eFNS online system the Immigration Department is still insisting on the submission of manual applications simultaneously with the online application.

Q. Is there a quota set for companies hiring foreign employees?

A. No. is no quota system. Each work permit application is considered on merit by the Immigration Department. There is now a strict requirement for each applicant to provide an understudy, a Kenyan citizen who shall be trained to take up the position being applied for by the foreigner.

Q. Is there a minimum salary threshold applicable to foreigners seeking employment in Kenya?

A. No.

Q. When can I apply for my Personal Identification Number (PIN) from the Kenya Revenue Authority?

A. You can only make an application for a PIN once you have obtained a Foreigners Certificate from the Department of Immigration (formerly known as an ‘alien card’). An application for a Foreigners Certificate is submitted once a work permit has been issued. It currently takes approximately 2-4 months for the Immigration Department to issue a Foreigners Certificate but as with most time frames, we cannot guarantee this timeline.

Q. My spouse is currently on a dependant’s pass. Can she work?

A. No. The dependant pass only grants a ‘dependant’ a right to reside in Kenya. Working is strictly prohibited.

Q. When should I ship my personal effects into Kenya?

A. You will be required to show a valid work permit (and in some instances a PIN issued by the KRA) to facilitate the clearing by the Kenyan customs authority of any shipment. We therefore recommend that arrangements to ship personal effects into Kenya be made once your permit and Foreigners Certificate has been issued to avoid any unnecessary demurrage charges.

Q. I need to work immediately but I have not yet applied for a work permit. What can I do?

A. You can apply for a special pass. A special pass is a 3 month work permit which takes approximately 3 weeks to process. An application for a special pass and a work permit can be lodged simultaneously. The law currently provides for a 6 month special pass and although the Department of Immigration is currently issuing 3 month special passes it is now possible to renew a special pass for a further and final period of 3 months.

Q. Is it true that foreign nationals in Kenya now face stricter work permit requirements due to renewed focus by the Kenyan government on national security?

A. Yes. Additional immigration requirements focusing on national security were introduced under the Security Laws (Amendment) Act 2014. Some key highlights of the new law include:

 (i) Mandatory out-of-county work permit processing. Foreign nationals will be required to show an
approved work permit before entering Kenya.

(ii) Holders of multiple passports will only be able to use the passport declared in work permit application form, unlike before when foreign nationals could have both passports endorsed with residency status.

(iii) The Cabinet Secretary in charge of the National Treasury will have authority to determine which categories of employees qualify for work permits in Kenya. Additionally, the Entry Permits Determination Committee, which approves or rejects applications will now be solely appointed by the Cabinet Secretary in charge of Immigration.

Although the changes have not yet been implemented, we expect that the new law will bring procedural and documentary changes that may complicate the application process and extend the current processing time for long-term work permits.■


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