Immigration reforms needed to spur talent mobility

The economy is rebounding after COVID-19 pandemic, and with it comes an increased demand for visas and passports. [iStockphoto]

Buoyed on by the success of a largely peaceful democratic election, the Kenyan government’s prioritisation of the agricultural and youth sector could yield not only new investment opportunities for the country, but an influx of talent mobility that could bode well for the economy.

Several challenges have arisen in the region's efforts to achieve a resilient economy. The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine continues to affect the price of oil, gas and other necessities causing inflation.

Furthermore, poor weather conditions such as droughts may slow the economy's recovery. Despite these challenges, governments throughout the East African region are eager to form effective partnerships and establish stable policy frameworks that will encourage investment and growth.

Immigration experts, Fragomen Africa, cite that Kenya is poised to witness revived direct investments as it turns its focus back to key strategic sectors such as agriculture, tourism, environmental protection, and the digital economy. According to Kenya Immigration Department, 7,332 work permits were issued in 2021 up from 5,851 in 2020.

As more economies are participating in research, development and innovation, the scale and complexity of international mobility of highly skilled workers keep growing.

Mobile talent spreads knowledge across borders both directly and indirectly. This has the potential to improve global innovation performance, with advantages accruing to both sending and receiving countries.

Mobility is clearly leading to increased labour-market internationalisation and integration, and competition for talent is now influencing innovation policy initiatives around the world.

Most countries have a variety of policies aimed at assisting and encouraging mobility, but few have a clear and cohesive mobility strategy. Many countries want to attract the same pool of highly skilled talent and relying on international flows to fill current or future supply gaps may be risky.

Addressing flaws in national policies that may limit the domestic supply of skilled workers, as well as ensuring a stable environment for innovation and scientific endeavour, are critical policy challenges for countries.

Kenya is a market ripe with opportunity and Kenyans can benefit from and contribute to their country's economical and digital transformation and development by gaining access to digital skills, markets, networks, finance, information, and representation.

The economy is rebounding after COVID-19 pandemic, and with it comes an increased demand for visas and passports. Kenya has emerged as one of the top destinations for those seeking to invest in its economy and gain access to second passports and visa-free travel in recent years. 

As a result, the opportunities in Kenya are in sectors such as Agriculture and agribusiness, manufacturing, tourism, infrastructure development, energy, and information communications technology. These sectors continue to grow due to the demands for them in Kenya and in other East African countries.

According to the Central bank of Kenya Foreign Direct Investment in Kenya increased by Sh50,801 million (0.42 B USD) in 2021. The maximum growth was Sh164,708 million and the minimum was Sh871 million.

From an immigration perspective, an increase in investment opportunities that in turn bolster the economy, potentially means an increased number of movements into Kenya as well. This bodes well from a skills-transfer perspective and for much-needed job creation through the expansion of multinational companies.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of private and public investment in Kenya’s growth and development. The country must therefore brace itself for a stiff international competition to attract much-needed private capital flows from both within and outside the continent.

Kenya’s investment potential is enormous, but the barriers to investment are numerous, if not unsolvable. We can overcome the constraints by enacting appropriate policies and developing and implementing appropriate incentive packages. Establishing political stability and implementing appropriate economic reform strategies which are critical prerequisites for increased international investment flow.

There is also an urgent need to develop infrastructure and human capacity, as well as to advance the economic integration process, to provide investors with more trading opportunities. Not to be overlooked are the promotion of dynamic financial sectors and the implementation of monetary and credit policies that encourage investment in productive sectors.

Development partners and international organizations should back the country’s efforts. The former should consider providing substantive relief and reducing the continent's debt burden, as well as creating reliable guarantees for potential investors.

The international community, particularly the donor community, has a long-term interest in encouraging the flow of foreign investment into Africa. This is the only viable way of shifting Kenya’s reliance from aid to trade and relieving the donor community of aid pressures. It is also the most effective way to make the country an effective partner in global trade and income growth.

Increased concessional flows in the context of positive transfers should also support the country’s capacity and infrastructure development programs. The relevant international organizations should step up their assistance programs for Africa to promote domestic and foreign investment. They should provide advice on macroeconomic policy formulation, regional economic integration, and capacity building to foster an environment conducive to increased investment flows.

Efficient communication strategies are critical in developing a positive perception of Kenya and focusing attention on economic potential and redeployment opportunities in the global economy (de-localization and new markets).

Companies in Kenya that intend to apply for work permits for East African nationals are exempt from paying the work permit government fees. This is a testament to Kenya's efforts to attract talent and investment from the region.

It may well be early days yet for the new government, but all eyes both local and international will be watching to see Kenya’s vaunted turnaround, not only to be a formidable player in the African and world markets but most importantly, for its people.

The writer, Willys Mac’Olale, is the Senior Manager at Fragomen, Kenya.

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