What you need to know:
- Droves of young people no longer feel that they can make it in their motherland, Kenya.
- In their hundreds of thousands, youth, have the urge to flee the country majorly to the Middle East and parts of Europe.
- Despite myriad of challenges that including scams, lack of travel documents and other costly requirements, have their eyes fixed on reaching the ‘land of milk and honey.’
In September 2022, a promise by a recruitment agency to secure jobs for more than 200 youths in Qatar turned out to be a scam, and brought to the fore the pressures that many young people face today due to the soaring unemployment rates in the country.
The youths were chasing a better life outside the shores of the country, but they ended up getting conned of their hard earned cash. They lost both their dream of working abroad, and their money.
Many young people are convinced that working or studying abroad is the new key to life, and that the only way to improve their living standards is by taking jobs outside the country. This should be a concern for all of us.
We speak to four youngsters who are frustrated by the limited opportunities here in Kenya, and are willing to pay any price to get to the land of opportunity – wherever that may be.
NYANJOM BARBRA, 25
SALES PERSON, KISUMU
In the year 2020, my family had made arrangements for me to travel to Qatar to work in a startup company.
The logistics, however, pulled me back. The cost of air tickets and temporary accommodation in Qatar was expensive. And then Covid-19 reared its ugly head, and my parents, who were already half-hearted about the whole journey, changed their minds and discouraged me from going. Their reason was that Qatar is a country with a ‘bad history,’ and where immigrants suffer, sometimes until death. The plan was ripped to shreds.
After graduating in 2021 at the Kisumu National Polytechnic with a diploma in food and beverages, my dream of travelling abroad was revived.
I went back to school and I now have another diploma in sales and marketing. My desire is to use both my culinary skills, and my knowledge in sales and marketing, and I believe that there are more opportunities for me outside the country, than in Kenya.
Although I have never been to any country, I’ve heard so many positive stories from those who went abroad in search of greener pastures, and I am convinced that I can get an opportunity or two there. Going outside the country could be my only chance to put my vast knowledge in the food business to practice.
Here in Kenya, we young people have limited opportunities because older folk are not always willing to give us a chance. Most of the youths have to watch their skills go to waste because there are limited jobs, and few accomplished individuals are willing to work with young professionals or provide mentorship.
Currently, I am working as a sales person cum human resource officer, and I am constantly in touch with relatives and friends who have been lucky enough to cross the borders.
My dream is to relocate to the United Kingdom and in readiness for this, I am working on getting a passport just in case lady-luck will smile my way and an opportunity arises.
From the stories I have heard, the UK is one ‘peaceful and cool’ country. Besides that, I am looking forward to fulfilling my dream of achieving financial independence, travelling the world, and probably see the royals, which is one of my childhood fantasies.
The United States of America is another of my dream destinations, specifically New York City, which I believe is the place where my hard working spirit can thrive. I can’t wait to get to a point where I can help my family financially, and I believe Europe is the place for me.
I believe that in the US or UK, I will get not just many opportunities, but also more exposure and a chance to create strong networks, which I can hardly make here in my mother land.
Despite the flowery stories told by relatives and friends, I know the trickiest part is obtaining a work visa. All in all, I still believe that my determination, alertness and discipline will carry me through.
When I realise my dream of working abroad, my plan is to save and later return to invest in a career of my choice, and a family of my own.
In case I don’t succeed, I will not give up. I will just continue making the most of what I have.
If we want to make Kenya a better place for youths, we should find a way of allowing the younger generations to find jobs and grow in their careers. That is what is missing here in Kenya.
EVANS EMMANUEL OTIENO, 23
I graduated in 2021 with a diploma in secretarial studies, but I am yet to secure employment in that field. Instead, I have been working at a cyber café until September last year when I decided to quit.
I believe there are lots of opportunities in Western countries. With my qualifications, I could be a personal assistant, a secretary, a copy typist, office administrator or office clerk. I can also work as a first aider, since I am a trained and certified first aider with St. Johns Ambulance. While working out of the country, I would also get a chance to advance my secretarial studies in some of the best colleges in the world. That is my dream.
I have never worked, studied or travelled abroad before. My desire to leave Kenya began when I was in my second year of college. I placed several applications for scholarships from universities across the world, but I wasn’t successful. I was disappointed and frustrated, and eventually I gave up.
My desire to relocate abroad was once again sparked last year when I applied for a job at the Royal Caribbean cruise line. I am yet to get a response but I am hopeful that my fortunes this time round will be different. I am currently looking for secretarial job openings in Canada, the US and the UK.
I prefer the three countries because unlike Kenya, employment opportunities in those countries are often skill-based rather than education-based.
I have done extensive research and I know that organisations pay really well, averagely Sh3.5 million ($35,100) per year for entry level positions.
The is a good amount which can go a long way in improving the living standards of my parents and siblings back home. If I do my budget well, I can also save some money for the purpose of investing in an income generating project.
The corporate scene in Kenya does not fully appreciate the role played by secretaries, yet the duties and responsibilities of secretaries have evolved so much due to advancements in technology.
I have friends and relatives living abroad who I can live with temporarily as I find my feet. I can’t wait to go.
The only reason that can make me reconsider my relocation plan is if companies will stop insisting on giving secretaries like me obsolete roles such as short hand skills.
Public institutions through the Public Service Commission should also revise the schemes of work for secretaries.
We have a lot of potential in the country’s youth. However, I am worried that brain drain will continue to be the order of the day until the government comes up with measures to reduce the unemployment burden.
GAUDENCIA AKOTH, 27
I have always wanted to relocate abroad due to the good stories I hear from people about available job opportunities.
Although I have never traveled out of Kenya, I believe that luck plays a big role in whether one succeeds or fails in a foreign land. I have seen some people make quite a good salary after settling abroad, while others have nothing to show despite having lived abroad for decades.
What I like about America or European countries is that one need not have ‘connections’ in order to get a job.
Back home, I have witnessed firsthand just how difficult it is for one to get a job despite being qualified. Most of our leaders and even employers are corrupt.
Getting a job here depends on who you know, not what you know. It is almost as if certificates or degrees no longer matter.
I graduated from Njuweni Institute of Hotel, Tourism and Hotel Management in 2018 and secured a job with a hospital in Kisumu working as a housekeeper. I had earlier done the same course in hotel management at Ujima Foundation in Kisumu.
Even when I was in school, I kept wishing I could relocate abroad. I have made several attempts to move but I have been unsuccessful due to lack of funds.
The relocation agencies keep demanding more than I can offer. However, I remain hopeful and I’m currently saving so that I can someday achieve my dream.
With my certificate in hotel management, I believe that I cannot miss a job opportunity. I would really like to settle in the US, where I imagine there are many hotels where I can work. Then I can save some money, return to Kenya and start a new business.
Director of DENHA Ventures Ltd, a recruitment agency based in Nairobi.
The Association of Skilled Migrant Agencies of Kenya, of which I am the Deputy Secretary General, aggressively sources for and registers Kenyans who would wish to work abroad. Most times, getting clients is not hard work. In my career, I have met hundreds of thousands of Kenyans who desire to relocate abroad. However, most of them fail in this mission as they lack basic documents and other requirements needed to make the jump. These include facilitation fees to cater for their travel process, and documents such as passport and birth certificate. Some are unable to raise the funds needed to take medical tests at a reputable hospital, pay for visa processing, training for their prospective jobs and air ticket fees.
Apart from the fees, the process of getting travel documents takes quite long, and patience is required. Other challenges include influx of scammers and rogue agencies that end up conning clients, and prolonged waiting periods, sometimes caused by the lengthy process that recruitment agencies have to undergo when renewing their licenses. At the various embassies, there is a lot of paperwork involved, which is also a hindrance especially to those who are not literate. Additionally, lack Bilateral Labour Agreements (BLA) between the government and destination countries can make the waiting period even longer.
It is important to understand that a delay in processing vital travel documents can affect already issued contracts, because such contracts usually have an expiry date. The government bodies tasked with training migrants also create monopoly, or are sometimes overwhelmed by huge numbers. To counter this, they limit the number of migrant workers leaving the country.
But there are quite a number of positives to be gleaned from international labour transfers. Key among them is that the country benefits from foreign remittance, unemployment levels could dip, and successful candidates gain more exposure and more advanced skills, as well as a chance to improve their living standards.
Yes, there are some bad apples. Some migrant workers export their bad morals and portray the whole country in bad light. I know there are some who are worried that the Kenyan labour market could shrink due to the huge numbers of migrants. But I don’t think this is likely to ever be a problem.
A major contributor to the labour migration being witnessed in Kenya today is high unemployment rates. Developed nations have broad job markets and very low unemployment rates. additionally, workers there are treated well, their human rights are observed and they get better salaries and perks.
My advice to young people who want to work abroad is, master your skills, have a good saving plan, and strive to become a good ambassador of Kenya. The government needs to sign more BLAs to open more opportunities abroad. This is one of the ways we can reach the Sh1 trillion remittance mark before 2027. The government should also play their role as regulators and let private companies work without interference. Recruitment agencies are key stakeholders in this issue, and I think they should be included in any committee formed by the Labour migration. We are well versed with this matter.