Congolese students in Tanzania, Kenya welcome visa waiver

Students from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) pursuing courses in Kenya and Tanzania have welcomed the visa exemption to Congolese nationals travelling to the two countries.

Early last week, the two East African countries announced they have granted visa exemptions to all Congolese citizens, bringing much needed relief to thousands of students pursuing their academic dreams in those countries.

The move comes after the DRC joined the East African Community (EAC), a bloc that brings together seven neighbouring countries, in March 2022.

The waivers of visa requirements in Tanzania and Kenya have been in effect since 25 August and 1 September 2023 respectively, according to an EAC press release issued on 8 September.

The press release said the waiver is in line with article 7 of the EAC Common Market Protocol that stipulates that: “EAC Partner States shall ensure non-discrimination of the citizens of the other Partner States based on their nationalities by ensuring entry of citizens of the other Partner States into the territory of the Partner State without a visa and free movement of persons who are citizens of the other Partner States within the territory of the Partner State.”

It further outlines that “EAC citizens are allowed to stay in the territory of a Partner State and exit without restrictions”.

Administrative challenges

Students said that life for Congolese students in Tanzania and Kenya before the visa waiver was marked by administrative challenges.

Many said they arrived with tourist visas that were typically valid for three months, and faced hurdles whenever they sought to renew them.

This, according to testimonies, resulted in substantial delays, which could sometimes go on for up to six months, before an extension was secured. During this period, fear of police checks and the associated consequences made it difficult for students to move freely within the city.

“Hailing from Goma in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Faustin Mapenzi is pursuing a degree in media communications at the University of Tanzania.

“The waiver of the visa for us students is good news and long overdue,” Mapenzi said.

“I used a tourist visa to enter Tanzania and enrolled as a student. I faced difficulties having my visa renewed and was worried.

“I can now continue my studies in Tanzania without any worries. This visa abolition is a tremendous opportunity for all of us,” he said.

Visa regulations in Tanzania and in Kenya offer various categories of visas which have different fees based on the type of study and duration of stay.

No more expense

The cost of a ‘student visa’ in Tanzania is US$250, while Kenya charges US$101. Visas from both countries are valid for 90 days, according to official information.

Lysette Kasongo, a business student at one of Kenya’s prestigious universities, said: “We study in very good conditions here. The only major issue was the paperwork. Thanks to the visa abolition, it is now a thing of the past. Administrative hurdles were the most significant challenges we faced in Kenya,” she noted.

“Now that the visa is no longer a requirement, we will enjoy studying in Kenya as we will be able to move freely, the fee that we are charged will be no more, and we are grateful to our leaders,” she said.

The Kenyan government said the progressive policy change aligns with ongoing legal amendments aimed at recognising the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s admission into the EAC.

“This significant visa exemption marks a positive step toward enhancing educational opportunities and cultural exchange between the Congolese and their East African neighbours,” it said.