The British High Commission in Nairobi plans to reduce staff in its Nairobi office from December as London applies austerity measures in its foreign offices.
Visa applications by Kenyans and other residents in East and Central Africa will now be processed in Pretoria, South Africa, head of communications at the British High Commission in Nairobi Stephen Burns confirmed on Saturday.
The move will mean that staff in Nairobi will be reduced, a move similar to the one taken by the United States several weeks ago.
“The visa charges remain the same and so will be the waiting period,” Mr Burns told the Sunday Nation.
A document circulated to staff at the High Commission and seen by the Sunday Nation says that the cutback is not security-related but part of the worldwide measures by the British government to cut costs.
In May, the US Embassy in Nairobi, the largest US mission in Africa, announced it will cut down its staff because of the mounting threat of attacks in Kenya suspected to be masterminded by Al-Shabaab.
In June 19, the United States said it was moving some of its Nairobi embassy personnel to other countries.
But Britain said its latest move was not as a result of security concerns but due to changes in operations by the UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) department, adding that it had no plans to evacuate staff from Kenya or close office entirely.
Between July 16 and December 31, visa applications from the East and Central Africa will be transferred to “other hubs” including Pretoria in South Africa according to the document circulated to staff at the Nairobi office.
“The Nairobi visa section will not close completely but after January 1, 2015, it will deal with only about 6,000 applications per year,” says the document.
These will include Kenyan official and diplomatic applications, priority visas, compassionate and urgent medical cases and official applications from the region made through local missions.
The current 38 members of staff at the visa section will be reduced to seven and staff are now leaving in phases until that number is attained.
The document further says staff will leave for other postings overseas or in the UK while others will be reduced through voluntary and compulsory redundancy schemes” by December 31.
Britain says in the document that the actions are in response to a request by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which asked all government departments to scale down staff.
“The request opened the door for us to assess again the operational set-up of the Africa region. Some departments work in a way that means they cannot easily or mainly operate outside Kenya, visa work is however more portable,” says the document.
“There is no compelling operational requirement to keep staff in Kenya to assess and process applications from East and Central regions when this work can be moved to other hubs,” the communication says.
The UK said the action was in line with its strategic direction to operate fewer overseas hubs adding that “these changes are therefore primarily an operational and administrative measure not one led by security”.
Britain also said the movement was not as a result of poor performance in the Nairobi office adding that the East and Central Africa region was a “high performing region”.
“Although the East and Central Africa region covers a very large geographical area, and we have always had a diverse intake covering some very high risk countries, the number of applications from individual countries are small and Nairobi is the smallest hub in Africa based on intake,” the document says.
Last month, London closed its consulate offices in Mombasa when the country issued travel advisory in Mombasa.
—- Daily Nation
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