A General Introduction to Immigration Law and Policy in Ghana

Ghana Immigration Service

October 24, 2020//-Ghana is located on the west coast of Africa. It is bounded by Burkina Faso to the north, Ivory Coast to the west, Togo to the east and the Gulf of Guinea to the south.

It has a social, political and economic environment that is most conducive to business and is certainly one of Africa’s leading economies.

All foreigners who intend to enter or transit through Ghana’s territory must first obtain a Ghana entry visa from a Ghanaian consulate abroad and must also be in possession of a valid passport or travel documents establishing the identity of the holder before they travel to Ghana.

However, citizens of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and also more recently citizens from the remaining African Union (AU) countries are exempted from applying for visas but are required to obtain an entry visa stamp on arrival at the international airport in Accra.

The Ghana Immigration Service (GIS) is the key agency responsible for immigration in Ghana. However, Ghana’s immigration landscape accommodates various other actors (i.e., agencies and regulators) who play various roles in the overall immigration processes pertaining to work authorisation for foreign assignees in their respective sectors.

These include the Petroleum Commission in respect of oil and gas companies, and companies offering services to the petroleum sector, the Minerals Commission for mining companies and mining support companies, the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) for companies with foreign shareholdings, and the Ghana Free Zones Authority for companies registered as free zone companies.

These actors’ involvement in Ghana’s immigration processes can include issuing automatic immigrant quotas, or control over all work authorisation processes for companies intending to employ foreign nationals.

i Legislation and policy

Ghana introduced the National Migration Policy in 2016, aimed at bringing migration issues into the spotlight and improving various aspects of Ghana’s immigration management and control activities, and ultimately facilitating the achievement of an improved immigration compliance practice in Ghana.

The primary legislation governing immigration in Ghana is the Immigration Act and the Immigration Regulations passed pursuant to the Act. This legislation serves as the primary source for all immigration services provided in Ghana.

The GIS is the frontline agency responsible for the entry, residence and employment of foreign nationals in Ghana in accordance with the provision of the Immigration Act.

Other pieces of legislation with a bearing on migration issues include: the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre Act 2013 (Act 865) (the GIPC Act); anD the Free Zone Act 1995 (Act 504).

There are two main types of work permit issued by the GIS: temporary and long-term work permits. The former is valid for six months and the latter is usually valid for a year. Temporary permits are non-renewable while the long-term work permits may be renewed upon an application to the Director of Immigration.

The GIPC Act guarantees issuance of automatic immigrant quotas to companies with foreign participation operating in Ghana. These quotas are issued based on the company’s level of investment or foreign paid-up capital.

Irrespective of the above-mentioned immigrant quotas, the GIS may refuse to grant a visa to an expatriate to whom a quota relates, where the GIS has sufficient reason to believe that the expatriate is not a desirable person and should not be permitted to enter the country.

ii The immigration authorities

The main agency responsible for immigration is the GIS, which falls within the remit of the Ministry of Interior.

The GIS is tasked with performing the core immigration function of monitoring movement into and out of the country, regulating the activities of foreigners, issuance of permits and visas, and monitoring and investigating breaches of the immigration laws and regulations.

It is further tasked with ensuring compliance with the provisions of the GIPC, social security and income tax laws, issuance of permanent residence status and indefinite stay status to deserving applicants, detention, removals, passport processing, collaboration with other agencies, refugees and asylum assistance and border patrol.

The Ministry of the Interior, on the other hand, is mandated to ensure internal security, prevent and manage internal conflicts and disputes, manage crime prevention and prosecution of offenders, rehabilitation and reform of prisoners, protection of the country’s frontiers, immigration control and monitoring of the activities of illegal immigrants, the repatriation and deportation of illegal aliens and the extradition of fugitive criminals.

iii Exemptions and favoured industriesECOWAS exemptions

ECOWAS citizens are offered preferential treatment, such as the right to enter Ghana, reside and establish a business during a stay of not more than 90 days. However, citizens must be in possession of a valid travel document and an international health certificate.

GIPC exemptions

The GIPC encourages foreign investment in a number of sectors. These include agriculture and agro-processing, information and communications technology, infrastructure, energy, healthcare and food processing.

Incentives and benefits are provided to these sectors, including customs duty exemptions on equipment imported for investment purposes; general free transferability of capital, profits and dividends; insurance against non-commercial risks; double-taxation agreements to rationalise the tax obligations of investors to prevent double taxation; and automatic immigrant quotas.

The year in review

i Year of Return

In September 2018, President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana declared 2019 to be the ‘Year of Return’, to mark 400 years since the first enslaved Africans arrived in the Americas. In commemoration of the initiative, a year-long series of high-profile activities were organised by the government of Ghana, coupled with a relaxation of Ghana’s immigration and citizenship-acquisition regimes to facilitate easy travel and integration of Africans from the diaspora.

Other interventions included a reduction in entry visa fees, a grant of visa waivers to selected countries (including Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago), the fast-tracking of the issuance of indefinite residence permits and right-of-abode requests, and the granting of citizenship to a host of members of the African diaspora.

Figures from the GIS showed that by September 2019 international arrivals had seen growth across the board, with over 237,000 visitors more than arrived in 2018.

The initiative was highly lauded and deemed successful as it also put Ghana on the world tourist map and the country was rated one of the most attractive holiday destinations in the world for the 2019 Christmas season.

ii Implementation of ECOWAS free movement, and immigration challenges

The ECOWAS countries have made further strides towards integration with some key Member States such as Ghana proceeding to fully implement Sections 1 and 2 of Article 5 of the ECOWAS Protocol.

Article 5 provides for citizens of Member States being able to enter another country within ECOWAS with a private vehicle for a period not exceeding 90 days and for not more than 15 days for commercial vehicles registered in the territory of residence upon presentation of some basic documents at borders.

Hitherto, citizens of Member States, particularly traders and commuters, faced a lot of challenges crossing borders within ECOWAS with their private and commercial vehicles.

Although this movement on the ECOWAS Protocol was well received by Member States in May 2019, by August of the same year Nigeria had closed its land borders with neighbouring countries to curtail smuggling of goods, among other unhealthy trade practices by ECOWAS citizens.

In what may be described by many stakeholders as retaliation, the Ghana Union of Traders’ Association closed down shops of Nigerian immigrants in the retail sector.

These developments have had a negative impact and may continue to have an impact on immigration within ECOWAS, especially among traders and members of the business community plying their trade by land, and it also has the long-term effect of impeding the integration of ECOWAS.

iii AfCFTA, free movement protocols and visa waivers

Following the adoption of the AU Protocol and subsequently the adoption of the AfCFTA, Ghana put in a bid to host the AfCFTA Secretariat and eventually emerged the winner in 2019.

It is envisaged that hosting the Secretariat will have an impact on immigration to Ghana given the enormous tasks the Secretariat has to undertake and its huge importance in the continuing efforts towards integration of the continent.

Although Ghana has yet to ratify the AU Protocol, it has already initiated a bilateral visa waiver agreement with South Africa, which is expected to facilitate movement of persons between the two countries initially, ahead of the overall continental arrangement, and includes rights of residence and of establishment.

Beyond the continent, Ghana signed visa waiver agreements with a number of countries in 2019, including India, Columbia, Iran and Hungary.

Outlook and conclusions

The Year of Return initiative directly led to a boost in the economy. This exposure has opened the door for collaborations between companies in the diaspora and Ghana.

It is envisaged that this will translate into a lot of foreign investment into Ghana, especially from the diaspora, in the coming years.

Ghana’s role in the AfCFTA also places it in the forefront to benefit from the common market. This will not only boost the fortunes of the country, but also directly open up the country to foreign investment.

In conclusion, the economic outlook for the country is expected to continue to be positive and to attract foreign investment.

Globetrotters Legal Africa – Paa Kwesi Hagan


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