Xpatweb recently conducted an extensive Africa Permit Risk Survey on 70 multinational employers across Africa to understand the impact of travel restrictions due to COVID-19 on their projects and employees. Survey results show that 44% of respondents urgently require employees who cannot return to job sites due to travel restrictions, and 31% of these expatriates’ passports have expired.
Tarissa Wareley, an immigration expert at Xpatweb, says that immigration departments will need to streamline their approach to processing permits and visas’ backlog. Employers as well as workers are also encouraged to start their visa renewal and application processes far ahead of borders reopening. “The process of getting the required work permit renewals isn’t necessarily as complex, but many African countries’ immigration departments will need to make provisions for workers who have been out of the country and therefore had documents that expired due to COVID-19 lockdowns. Instead of having everyone start from scratch with the application process, immigration departments will benefit from creating a streamlined process to assist these foreign workers in getting back to their job sites as soon as lockdowns are lifted. Some countries have lead times of 2 – 3 months to process work permits and visa applications.
“We advise companies and workers to start their application processes early and for immigration departments to see where they can start assisting foreign workers who were unable to renew their visas due to the pandemic,” says Wareley.
Foreign work visa applications likely to receive more scrutiny
According to survey results, 48% of employers have new assignees that need permits to enter. Kenya, DRC, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Botswana were among the top five countries that require the entry of new expats.
“Employers who have identified critical personnel need to apply for the permits now as these applications will likely receive a larger amount of scrutiny to prove that a local cannot do the job due to many of these countries suffering job losses as a result of COVID-19. Employers may also need to start considering how they will transfer those skills to a local ahead of the permit being granted as these applications may need to be additionally motivated,” says Wareley.
How border closures have affected industries and projects
62% of survey respondents indicated that they had to postpone the start date of their critical projects due to the lockdown. The most affected sectors are oil and gas (14%), mining (15%), and construction (18%). The countries that have been most impacted by projects that have not been able to start due to lockdowns are Kenya, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Madagascar, DRC, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Ghana, and Nigeria.
“With immigration departments still working despite travel restrictions, immigration processes should continue to be processed while we wait for borders to open. Processes are layered and complex, often taking several weeks to be adjudicated before someone can enter a country. Get your documents in place so that work can resume as soon as possible after border restrictions are lifted,” concludes Wareley.