Inept Immigration slows Kenya’s ‘open border’ dream
Inefficiency, delays and bribery at Kenya’s Immigration Department are getting in the way of the country’s bid to open its borders.
And the frequent breakdown of the eCitizen platform, an online digital portal for validating government documents such as e-visas, hasn’t helped.
President William Ruto has in the past year reached visa-free travel pacts with five countries, part of his efforts to enhance trade and business travel.
These include the Comoros, South Africa, Eritrea, Djibouti and the Republic of Congo. Yet Kenyans seeking to travel to those countries are also facing a problem: passport processing takes ages.
Read:Kenya to drop visa requirement for Djiboutians
First, Kenyan authorities said there was a shortage of booklets for the 34, 50 and 66-page passports. What came out was people paying higher fees and getting smaller booklets.
This week, Kenya’s Interior and National Coordination Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki ruled out decentralisation of printing passports, saying it could lead to forgery.
In July, the Ministry of Foreign and Diaspora Affairs had to grant Kenya-bound travellers visas on arrival, due to difficulties in online visa processing attributed to challenges in the eCitizen platform following a hacking attack.
“During this period, applicants from visa-required countries will not be able to submit or track new eVisa applications but can use any airline to enter Kenya under a visa-on-arrival, endorsed as a stamp in the entrant’s passport,” said Foreign Affairs PS Korir Sing’oei.
Services such as issuance of e-visas for foreigners have been on and off since July, suggesting the platform is not stable yet. This has affected residents of neighbouring countries who want to do business in Kenya. Normally, with proof of residential permits, they only need an e-visa application before they hop on a plane or bus.
At the same time, without modern printers that can allow faster processing of the travel documents, passport processing has been hampered, inconveniencing travellers.
Passport applicants have in the past complained of being forced to pay bribes to bypass the long appointment dates available on the eCitizen platform.
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A May 2023 report by the Commission on Administrative Justice, submitted before the Senate Committee on National Security, Defence and Foreign Relations, revealed maladministration, inefficiency and discourtesy by immigration officials.
The commission called on the department to formulate policy guidelines that will formalise and standardise the management of issues arising from the passport application processes.
“This will help eliminate opportunities for corruption, unnecessary bureaucracies, and abuse of power by immigration staff,” said the commission’s vice chairperson Washington Sati.
“We have ordered for new printers and enough booklets for Kenyans. Going forward, applying and getting passports will take you a maximum of seven days. We believe it will be possible to get passports within three days. We are going to introduce express services,” said Immigration and Citizen Services PS Julius Bitok.
Department has been tasked to look into issues around cancellation of applications and handling of applications considered ‘urgent’ and procedures for refund.
It also said it was cracking down on corruption at Nyayo House, the Immigration headquatres in Nairobi.