Nairobi, Tuesday May 22, 2018: Chiefs of Immigration departments from the COMESA, EAC and SADC regions held a two-day meeting in Nairobi this week to discuss ways of introducing free movement of business persons within the context of the Tripartite Free Trade Area. 

The business community has long complained about the restrictive immigration processes that make it impossible and expensive for them to travel across the region.

Some of these include extensive visa procedures, lack of uniformity of procedures and multiple physical checks. Visa fees and other taxes on business persons are varied between member States with some charging as high as $250.

In addition, there are high additional taxes that are not directly linked to Visas such as airport tax and some more taxes not linked to any administrative costs or service provided.

Speaking during the opening ceremony of the meeting, Chairperson of the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Mr. Sindiso Ngwenya described the restrictions as archaic and connected to colonialism. He said these processes are also preventing Africa from embracing the digital age.

He added that it is a paradox that whereas under the free trade area goods originating within the member/partner States that qualify under the Tripartite Rules of Origin can move freely, that is not the case with business people.

“I wish to submit that there can be no Union without the free movement of people including business persons,” Mr. Ngwenya said who is also the Secretary General of COMESA.

This meeting held from 22-23 May 2018 was necessitated by failure of immigration technical officers to find consensus, after several rounds of negotiations, on a number of important issues that are critical to the free movement of business persons, goods, services and investment across the Tripartite region.