Kenya and South Sudan on Monday announced an end to visa requirements for their nationals visiting the two countries in the latest move to boost integration.
The decision means South Sudanese travelling to Kenya will be entitled to enter for free, as long as they carry a valid passport and meet other health conditions for travellers. In return, Kenyans will no longer need to apply and pay for South Sudanese visas online before travel.
Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau said the move was in line with existing integration protocol at the East African Community.
“This waiver of visa requirement for citizens of the Republic of South Sudan takes effect immediately from the date of this press release,” Kamau said in a statement on Monday.
The countries said the move is in line with the treaty establishing the East African Community’s Common Market Protocol, an agreement providing for the free movement of labour and people from the member states.
South Sudan joined the EAC in 2016, but had lagged behind in adopting crucial protocols of the community including the Customs Union and the Common Market Protocol, which allow harmonisation of levies, exemption of certain taxes on produces of the region and movement without visas in the region.
At the last Summit in February, South Sudan was listed as the most indebted country to the EAC for delaying to pay up its membership fees. It owed about $20 million at the time although Juba promised to gradually clear the debt.
Juba initially granted visas to visiting Kenyans at the airport or point of arrival. But it changed the policy in May, requiring travellers to apply online and travel only once the visas had been granted. It argued it was safeguarding revenue leakages at the time.
On Monday, Nairobi said the waiver was also “in furtherance of the warm and cordial relations between the Republic of Kenya and the Republic of South Sudan”.
“Premised on the principle of reciprocity, the Republic of South Sudan has also waived visa requirements for Kenyans wishing to visit their country.”
The next step, Mr Kamau said, will be to sign a labour agreement which will give specified privileges for expatriates from each country. The waiver of the visa fees, nonetheless, gives an opportunity for Kenyans to seek work in South Sudan as is provided for under the Common Market Protocol.
Officials in Nairobi said removal of visa requirement could enhance ties between people “by encouraging free movement of persons and labour which are key pillars in the integration of the East African Community”.
South Sudan had earlier in 2015 caused a protest in Nairobi after demanding that NGOs only hire local managers. The policy was abandoned, but given South Sudan had delayed localising EAC protocols, Juba had the leeway to impose charges on foreign workers without violating the bloc.
The EAC includes Kenya, South Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda. The Democratic Republic of Congo has applied to join and a decision on whether it will become the seventh member is expected before the end of August.