The year 2016 will go down in history as one where immigration issues shaped the world. It is because of immigration issues that the United Kingdom voted 'yes' to Brexit. The Americans too elected Donald Trump as President because of his tough stance on immigration reforms. Closer home, Kenya's Immigration Department as well as immigration consultancy firms have had quite an eventful year. This can partly be attributed to the high-profile visits by foreign dignitaries such as President Obama, the Pope as well as the many high-level conferences that have been held in Nairobi.
Kenya has strategically positioned itself as East Africa's trade and investment hub, which has in turn attracted several international trade deals. China currently holds mega infrastructure projects while the US has also been keen to invest in Kenya, more so after President Obama's successful visit in July 2015. The same goes for big German corporations such as Volkswagen. This is a good sign that the world has taken note of Kenya and is keen on learning more about what the country has to offer.
This, coupled with the sustainable development drive that the Government has been pursuing to end poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change by 2030, has resulted in an influx of foreign employees in the country. While the vetting rules have become more stringent, the Immigration Department has been very supportive of the work authorisations process. New platforms including the immigration work permit online application system and the online payment portals have been implemented to fasten and ease the process.
In the same breath, there have also been drastic changes in the immigration application process including document requirements as well as a major focus on the localisation policy which ensures that local jobs are protected. This has ensured that Kenyans remain with a fair share of the locally available expertise. At the same time, it serves to give them exposure to training that helps to improve their skill set and increase their competitive advantage in the international job market.
Immigration, being a gatekeeper for security in the country also continued to play a big role in the crackdown on illegal immigrants and ensured that corrective action as per the laws was undertaken. It is imperative that foreigners obey the immigration laws and regulations of Kenya and ensure they remain on valid immigration status.
Continued violation of these laws saw the Government announce the decision to close down refugee camps in Northern Kenya, a move that elicited mixed reactions from the public and local and global organisations dealing with refugees and humanitarian issues.
On the continental front, a few developments on immigration were also witnessed. In January, the African Development Bank released the 'Africa Visa Openness Report' that revealed stark findings about the continent's visa policies.
The report indicated that 80 per cent of Africans need visas to travel around Africa; 55 per cent of the countries require visas prior to travel and only 25 per cent of these offer visas on arrival. These statistics are indeed an indictment on African states for failing to facilitate easier travel within the continent for their citizens. However, in July, African Union Commission released an African passport that it hopes will be in place by 2018 and will facilitate movement of Africans around the continent.
As we close the year and step into 2017, a few issues around immigration still linger in our minds. First, there is anxiety about the issue of Kenyans living in the US and if indeed the immigration reforms proposed by the President-elect will affect them and if so, how the Kenyan Government will respond.
Secondly, it remains to be seen if Brexit will impact Kenya-UK/US relations in terms of immigration and specifically, if it will be harder for Kenyans to acquire visas to these two countries. Locally, 2017 will be an election year and we are also keen to hear how presidential contenders will address all issues around immigration into and out of the country.