July 1, 2013 (JUBA) - Illegal foreign workers in South Sudan, mostly from neigbouring East African countries, are fast running out of time to complete regularising their status, the government in Juba warned.
- An Ugandan trader (R) sells onions to a customer at a vegetable market in southern Sudan’s capital Juba (file photo/Reuters)
If they fail to do so, the foreign workers risk being deported, according to an administrative circular from the ministry of interior affairs on Monday.
The order, which follows similar instructions issued by the ministry last year, gives all foreign workers a grace period of three months to regularise their residency or else risk being removed from the country to avoid being prosecuted or jailed and fined.
South Sudan’s ministry of interior estimates that there are more than 2.5 million illegal foreign workers in the country, mainly from neigbouring countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan. South Sudan also hosts foreign workers from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Eritrea.
Furthermore, over 130,000 Sudanese have been forced to seek refugee in South Sudan due to the conflicts in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Officials at immigration department in the ministry of interior say that around 120,000 people have adjusted their status since the beginning of the year.
With many foreigners desperate to work in the world’s youngest nation, sponsoring expatriates has become a lucrative business for some in South Sudan. But under the new rules workers can be employed only by their own sponsors.
President Salva Kiir Mayardit last month decried the mushrooming of foreign nationals, saying that jobs such as cleaning and housekeeping and driving vehicles can be performed by South Sudanese.
Some foreign nationals working in Juba have expressed a desire to continue working in the hope that their countries enter into discussions with the government of South Sudan to issue them legal documents.
"I’m trying to renew my passport because I am interested in working in this country. I’ve provided fingerprints and obtained a travel document, in case I don’t get my passport ready in time," Moses Wangairu, a Kenyan national told Sudan Tribune at South Sudan hotel on Monday.
Moses Kayumbo, a Rwandan national said he has a travel document but said others were desperately waiting to finalise his documents.
"There are still hundreds of us waiting here for consular formalities. And once completed, the paperwork has to go to the immigration authorities and the labour ministry" Kayumbo said.
Many foreign workers are worried that they will be arrested if they fail to acquire the correct paperwork in time.
Acting labour and public service minister, Kwong Danhier Gatluak, said the ministry had put in place mechanisms together with the national ministry of interior to scrutinise foreign nationals wanting to enter the country for work.
He said the draft of the new act currently being developed by the ministry aims to reduce the number of foreign workers to create jobs for millions of unemployed South Sudanese.
"This will help reorganise the labour market to promote the work of South Sudanese and protect foreign workers from the abuse of sponsors", he said.
However, he warned that the massive departure of tens of thousands of workers will "negatively impact business", pointing out that some sectors, including construction, "are not attractive for South Sudanese people" who want better paid positions.
He said the labour ministry should reduce the number of foreign workers by 60%, if the campaign is to be successful.