The East African Community Secretary General, Dr. Richard Sezibera, has called for the scrapping of work permit fees, saying that this will fast-track regional integration.
Dr. Sezibera made the call during the recently concluded Second Secretary General's meeting held in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
Sezibera also said that the move would immensely facilitate free movement of labor, goods, and services, and even spur trade between the five partner states.
"Rwanda has already scrapped the fees, Kenya and Uganda have indicated willingness to do so, though they have yet to fully commit themselves," Sezibera said, adding that the EAC secretariat and partner states were looking for ways on how to get Tanzania get on board.
The issue of waiving off work permit charges in the EAC bloc has been a matter of debate for a long time, with some countries supporting it while others are hesitant.
Recently, Tanzania increased work permit fees by 33%, bringing the charges to about $3,000 USD, while in Uganda, work permit fees range from $250 (for missionaries) to $2,500 (for miners). Burundi charges between $60 for students and $84 for regular workers.
The Common Market Protocol still calls for work permits as a requirement for working in another partner state, apart from cases where a partner state has waived off the requirement for East African citizens.
Workers will enter partner states by presenting their passports or national identification documentation at the point of entry, declaring the usual information, and providing a contract of employment.
For jobs that will last less than 90 days, workers will need a special pass, while for jobs exceeding more than 90 days, they will need a work permit.
According to Sezibera, the idea is to create a community of one people living together and trading among themselves without trade barriers, so that they share economic interests as well as social aspects.
"How do you create this type of a community with some partner states still levying work permit fees? The political will is there, but a lot more needs to be done," he said.
During the meeting, Peter Mathuki, a Kenyan East Africa Legislative Assembly MP said: "The idea here is to ensure that workers are not discriminated against on the basis of their nationality,"
Although consensus was reached in April to have work permit fees harmonized across the region, the situation remains unchanged.
Article 10 of EAC Common Market Protocol on free movement of workers states that "The office responsible for employment in a partner state shall facilitate a citizen of another partner state who seeks employment in the territory of that partner state to receive the same assistance as would be accorded to a citizen of that partner state who seeks employment."
Three EAC partner states, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya, this year approved a move that will enable their population to use a single custom visa effect from first of January 2014, as well as using national identity cards as travel documents among the three countries. This is aimed at easing the free movement of people and goods in the region.