General framework

Legislation

What primary and secondary legislation governs immigration in your jurisdiction?

The primary laws that govern immigration in Ghana are:

  • the Immigration Act (573/2000) and its amendments;
  • the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre Act (865/2013); and
  • the Immigration Regulations (1691/2001).
International agreements

Has your jurisdiction concluded any international agreements affecting immigration (eg, free trade agreements or free movement accords)?

Yes. Ghana is a party to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons, the Right of Residence and Establishment (Protocol A/P1/5/79). The protocol grants all citizens of the 15 West African member states visa-free access to Ghana in the spirit of promoting free trade and regional integration.

In addition, Ghana is a party to the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA), which was signed on 28 March 2018. The treaty seeks to create a single liberalised market for trade in goods and services and also to foster free movement for trade purposes in Africa. The CFTA has been hugely successful; it has been signed by 52 African member states, with 23 ratifications within only three years of free trade negotiations. Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, has not ratified the agreement; however, this has not deterred the momentum. The member countries have set ambitious goals of making inner African trade 25% of the total trade on the continent (currently 16%).

Finally, Ghana has entered into bilateral agreements with specific countries to grant visa exemptions. Most recently, President Nana Akufo-Addo’s visit to the Caribbean to promote ‘The Year of Return, Ghana 2019’, yielded three further reciprocal visa-free agreements with Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. At present, Ghana has agreed visa exemptions with:

  • holders of diplomatic, service or official passports from Cuba, Germany, Brazil, Iran and Namibia (visa-free access is for 90 days from the date of entry); and
  • nationals of Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Singapore, South Africa, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Equatorial Guinea and Jamaica (visa-free access is for 90 days from the date of entry).
Regulatory authorities

Which government authorities regulate immigration and what is the extent of their enforcement powers? Can the decisions of these authorities be appealed?

The government authority with responsibility for the regulation of immigration is the Ministry of the Interior, acting through the Ghana Immigration Service (GIS). The GIS has the power to arrest or detain persons for further examination and prosecute and deport illegal immigrants. 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also has some responsibility for immigration through the embassies. The ministry has the power to issue and refuse visas to persons, implement Ghana’s policy and participate in the negotiation and interpretation of international agreements.

Government policy

In broad terms what is your government’s policy towards business immigration?

The government’s overarching policy towards business immigration is to develop its local content and improve local content participation in key sectors of the economy. Thus, Ghana’s laws and regulations seek to limit the immigration of foreign workers into the country to persons with specialised skills, talents and expertise not readily available in Ghana.

Under the Petroleum (Local Content and Local Participation) Regulations (2204/2018), professional services (eg, insurance brokerage, legal services and financial services) are reserved for indigenous Ghanaians.

Ghana’s local content laws also require certain percentages of local equity participation in various projects. The minimum local equity participation requirement differs depending on each sector.

Further, certain jobs and professional services are reserved for Ghanaian citizens. Under the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre Act (865/2013), the following services, among others, are reserved for Ghanaian citizens:

  • the provision of goods and services at marketplaces, as well as petty trading;
  • the operation of taxis and car-hire services with less than 20 fleets;
  • the operation of hair dressing saloons and barber shops;
  • the production of exercise books and basic stationery; and
  • the retail of pharmaceuticals.

Although there are clear regulations to protect the local workforce, Ghana is also bound by the CFTA and the ECOWAS Protocol to foster free movement for trade purposes African member states. These treaties place an international legal obligation on Ghana to ensure the enforcement of the terms of such treaties both municipally and nationally.

Short-term transfers

Visas

In what circumstances is a visa necessary for short-term travellers? How are short-term visas obtained?

In general, a visa is necessary for all short-term travellers unless there is a waiver by reason of: 

  • an international treaty (similar to that for Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) nationals);
  • a reciprocal agreement between the traveller’s home country and Ghana;
  • the fact that the traveller is a holder of a diplomatic passport; or
  • the fact that the traveller is an official of a specific international organisation (eg, the World Health Organisation).

Ghana’s short-term visa can be obtained from the Ghanaian embassy, high commission or consulate in the traveller’s home country. Where Ghana does not have consular or diplomatic representation in the traveller’s home country, they will be eligible for an emergency visa on arrival in Ghana. The emergency visa must be pre-approved if the applicant is not a national of a country belonging to the African Union organisation.

Restrictions

What are the main restrictions on a business visitor?

Short-term business visitors must obtain a business visa (B1 visa). In general, business visitors are restricted from engaging in paid employment or work. The holder of a short-term business visa may engage in short-term business transactions only while in Ghana. Permissible business transactions include:

  • consultation with business associates;
  • travel for scientific purposes;
  • education;
  • conventions and conferences;
  • contract negotiation;
  • training;
  • auditing; and
  • settling an estate.

Short-term visas are obtained for a period of either 30 or 60 days. This can be extended for up to a total of 90 days.

Short-term training

Is work authorisation or immigration permission needed to give or receive short-term training?

Work authorisation is not needed to receive short-term training. A B1 visa must be obtained for short-term training.

A visitor receiving such training may require authorisation from the Ghana Immigration Service if the training extends beyond 90 days.

With persons giving training, whether they are required to obtain work authorisation is dependent on whether giving such training qualifies as work. If they are giving the training in the course of their paid employment and training forms part of their job description, they are deemed to be working and must thus obtain a work permit, irrespective of the fact that the training is short term.

Transit

Are transit visas required to travel through your country? How are these obtained? Are they only required for certain nationals?

Yes, with the exemption of ECOWAS nationals, transit visas are required for all visitors travelling through Ghana to another country.

Transit visas can be obtained at the port of entry or at Ghana’s embassy in the visitor’s home country.

Visa waivers and fast-track entry

Are any visa waiver or fast-track entry programmes available?

Yes, there are two notable waiver or fast-track entry programmes available.

First, visa waivers are available for:

  • ECOWAS nationals;
  • nationals of countries with which Ghana has a reciprocal bilateral agreement;
  • holders of a diplomatic passport of certain countries; and 
  • holders of an official passport of some specified international organisations.

Second, there is the emergency visa on arrival for visitors who have met the eligibility conditions, which includes being a national of a country with visa-on-arrival access to Ghana.

 

Long-term transfers

Categories

What are the main work and business permit categories used by companies to transfer skilled staff?

The main work and business permit categories that are used by companies to transfer skilled staff are:

  • short-term work and residence permits;
  • long-term work and residence permits; and
  • the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) automatic immigrant quota.
Procedures

What are the procedures for obtaining these permissions? At what stage can work begin?

Short-term work and residence permits (six months)Sponsoring companies must apply to the Ghana Immigration Service (GIS) for a short term work permit for skilled staff and provide sufficient justification for the request. A sponsoring company must be duly registered in Ghana (and not the company transferring the skilled staff).

In its application, the sponsoring company must demonstrate to the GIS that it is compliant with Ghanaian laws by submitting documents showing that the company:

  • is duly registered in Ghana;
  • is tax compliant; and
  • has the relevant sector specific licence to operate.

In addition, the skilled staff (being transferred) must provide:

  • a copy of their passport biodata;
  • confirmation that they have a valid assignment or employment agreement with the sponsor;
  • confirmation that they are medically fit to work in Ghana (the medical examination must be conducted at the GIS’s medical facility); and
  • confirmation that they possess the relevant skills required for the position.

All of the required documents – including a completed work permit form – must be submitted to the GIS for processing.

For certain specialised sectors, such as the petroleum and mining sectors, a recommendation letter from the regulator (eg, the Petroleum or Minerals Commission) is required in addition to the abovementioned documents.

After assessing an application, the GIS will issue a work permit to the employee. Employees are fully authorised to work once they receive both a work and residence permit. The latter will be issued in the employee’s original passport. 

Long-term work and residence permitsSponsoring companies must apply to the GIS for a long-term work permit for skilled staff and provide sufficient justification for the request.

In its application, the sponsoring company must demonstrate to the GIS that it is compliant with Ghanaian laws by submitting documents showing (among other things) that the company:

  • is duly registered in Ghana;
  • is tax compliant; and
  • has the relevant sector specific licence to operate.

In addition, the skilled staff (being transferred) must provide:

  • a copy of their passport biodata;
  • confirmation that they have a valid assignment or employment agreement with the sponsor;
  • confirmation that they are medically fit to work in Ghana (the medical examination must be conducted at the GIS’s medical facility);
  • confirmation that they possess the relevant skills required for the position; and
  • confirmation that they do not have a criminal record.

All documentation – including a completed work permit form – must be submitted to the GIS for processing.

For certain specialised sectors, such as the petroleum and mining sectors, a recommendation letter from the regulator (eg, the Petroleum or Minerals Commission) is required in addition to the abovementioned documents when applying for a work and residence permit. In order to satisfy local content requirements, additional documents and information will be required to obtain the relevant recommendation letter from the regulators.

After assessing an application, the GIS will issue a work permit to the employee. Employees are fully authorised to work once they receive both a work and residence permit. The latter will be issued in the employee’s original passport. 

GIPC automatic immigrant quotaThe GIPC automatic immigrant quota is an indefinite work permit slot allocated to companies registered with the GIPC. The number of quotas to which a company is entitled is determined by the level of foreign equity or foreign capital invested into the company’s operations in Ghana. This allocation is made on application by the company to the GIPC to utilise their quota once the company wishes to employ a foreign national.

Once an application for utilisation of a quota is approved, the GIPC writes to the GIS requesting a residence permit to be issued in favour of the employee in order to allow them utilise the quota.

Period of stay

What are the general maximum (and minimum) periods of stay granted under the main categories for company transfers?

Short-term work and residence permitsShort-term work and residence permits are valid for six months. These permits can be renewed once.

Long-term work and residence permitsLong-term work and residence permits are valid for minimum of one year. These permits can be renewed annually.

GIPC automatic immigrant quotaThe automatic immigrant quota is co-terminus with the company’s existence. However, an employee utilising the quota may have to renew their residence permit annually.

Processing time

How long does it typically take to process the main categories?

Short-term work and residence permitsTypically, a direct work and residence permit application (without any sector-specific requirements) takes between four and eight weeks to be approved and issued. However, where a recommendation letter is required from a sector regulator, the processing time may increase by up to four weeks on average. 

Long-term work and residence permitsTypically, a direct work and residence permit application (without any sector-specific requirements) takes between four and eight weeks to be approved and issued. However, where a recommendation letter is required from a sector regulator, the processing time may increase by up to six weeks on average. 

GIPC automatic immigrant quota The processing time is between four and six weeks.

Staff benefits

Is it necessary to obtain any benefits or facilities for staff to secure a work permit?

No. Staff benefits are not conditions precedent to obtaining a work permit. However, there must be an employment or assignment agreement between the company and the employee that states the employee’s salary.

Assessment criteria

Do the immigration authorities follow objective criteria, or do they exercise discretion according to subjective criteria?

In general, the GIS follows objective criteria in assessing applications. However, some senior officials can exercise limited discretion when met by novel, peculiar or complicated cases.

High net worth individuals and investors

Is there a special route for high net worth individuals or investors?

No, there are no special routes for high-net-worth individuals or investors. However, the GIPC Act allocates a number of automatic immigrant quotas to companies depending on the amount of equity investment that they make. 

Is there a special route (including fast track) for high net worth individuals for a residence permission route into your jurisdiction?

No, there is no special route for high-net-worth individuals for residence permission in Ghana.

Highly skilled individuals

Is there a special route for highly skilled individuals?

No, there is no special route for highly skilled individuals.

Ancestry and descent

Is there a special route for foreign nationals based on ancestry or descent?

Yes, a foreign national of African descent living in the diaspora may be granted a right of abode. Also, Ghanaians who have lost their citizenship by reason of their acquiring another citizenship may apply to the Ministry of the Interior for a right of abode.

Foreign nationals of African descent living in the diaspora may apply for a right of abode if (among other things) they have resided in Ghana for at least 10 years. 

A person who is granted a right of abode is entitled to:

  • remain indefinitely in Ghana;
  • enter the country without a visa; and
  • work without a permit.
Minimum salary

Is there a minimum salary requirement for the main categories for company transfers?

No. There is no minimum salary requirement specific to company transfers.

Resident labour market test

Is there a quota system or resident labour market test?

There are no quota limits. However, there are general restrictions on the kinds of position that a foreign national may occupy; these must be highly technical and one for which no Ghanaian has the requisite expertise.

In general, labour market testing is required before foreign employees can be hired or transferred to positions in Ghana. In applying for a work permit, an applicant must disclose whether the position was first advertised locally.

Labour market testing is stricter in some sectors than others. Specifically, in the oil and gas sector, the Petroleum Commission (the regulator) has a strict requirement that all vacant positions are advertised in designated newspapers and evidence of such ads is provided when applying for work permits.

Further, where no Ghanaian is found to occupy the position, a Ghanaian understudy must be recruited to understudy the prospective foreign employee.

Employers will usually be exempt from submitting a labour market testing when applying for short-term (six month) work permits.

GIPC automatic immigrant quota cases do not require labour market testing as quotas are tied to the investments made into the country rather than the availability of Ghanaians for the positions.

Shortage occupations

Is there a special route for shortage occupations?

No, there are no special rules for shortage occupation.

Other eligibility requirements

Are there any other main eligibility requirements to qualify for work permission in your jurisdiction?

No.

Third-party contractors

What is the process for third-party contractors to obtain work permission?

The process of obtaining work permission for third-party contractors is no different from the normal work permit application process. However, the company on whose behalf the third-party contractor is applying for the work permit must be the sponsoring entity and not the third-party contractor.

Ghana’s immigration laws do not preclude persons using a work permit from working as contractors on other companies’ premises. Once it has been shown that the person using a work permit is an employee of the contractor, that person can work on other companies’ premises for and on behalf of the contractor.

Recognition of foreign qualifications

Is an equivalency assessment or recognition of skills and qualifications required to obtain immigration permission?

Yes, recognition of skills and qualifications are required to obtain immigration permission. An applicant must present their educational and professional certificates evidencing their skills and expertise in order for them to obtain immigration permission.

Extensions and variations

Short-term to long-term status

Can a short-term visa be converted in-country into longer-term authorisations? If so, what is the process?

Yes. A short-term visa can be converted in-country into a work permit or long-term authorisation.

The sponsor must apply for a long-term permit on behalf of the applicant. The application is, for purposes of the long-term permit, treated as a fresh application and thus all requirements applicable to long-term applications apply.

 

Long-term extension

Can long-term immigration permission be extended?

Yes, long-term work and residence permits may be renewed annually. There is no requirement to leave eventually.

 

Exit and re-entry

What are the rules on and implications of exit and re-entry for work permits?

Once a person obtains a work and residence permit, they can exit and re-enter Ghana multiple times without restriction.

Permanent residency and citizenship

How can immigrants qualify for permanent residency or citizenship?

Immigrants can qualify for permanent or indefinite residency if they:

  • have resided in Ghana for:
    • 12 consecutive months preceding the date of application; or
    • an aggregate of five years within the seven years immediately preceding the date of application;
  • intend to stay permanently after they are issued with indefinite residence;
  • have no criminal record; and
  • have a valid residence permit at the time of application.

Immigrants can qualify for citizenship by either registration or naturalisation.

A long-term visa holder may qualify to be registered as a citizen of Ghana if they:

  • are of good character;
  • are ordinarily resident in Ghana;
  • have resided in Ghana for at least five years;
  • can speak and understand an indigenous language; and
  • have taken the oath of allegiance.

An immigrant may qualify to be naturalised as a citizen of Ghana if they:

  • have resided in Ghana for:
    • the 12 months immediately preceding the application; or
    • an aggregate of five years out of the seven years immediately preceding the application;
  • are of good character;
  • have not been convicted of an offence or been sentenced to prison for 12 months or more;
  • are of independent means;
  • can make a substantial contribution to the development of the country;
  • can speak and understand one indigenous language; and
  • have been or can be assimilated into the Ghanaian way of life.
End of employment

Must immigration permission be cancelled at the end of employment in your jurisdiction?

Yes, employee residence permits must be cancelled at the end of the employment relationship.

Employee restrictions

Are there any specific restrictions on a holder of employment permission?

Yes, there are certain restrictions on holders of work and residence permits in Ghana. The laws do not specifically preclude an employee from being promoted and having their salaries changed in the course of their employment. 

However, a holder of a work and residence permit is precluded from studying on their work permit or working for another employer in addition to or instead of the original sponsor.

Dependants

Eligibility

Who qualifies as a dependant?

Ghana’s immigration law provides that a dependant includes a child and a spouse. The inclusive definition of a dependant means that persons who qualify as dependants are not limited to children and spouses.

It follows that, apart from marriages, other forms of civil partnerships and co-habitation applications may be recognised once proper documentation is provided to evidence such partnerships. A party to such a partnership may thus be recognised as a dependant.

On the other hand, an unmarried partner cannot be recognised as a dependant. The laws do not recognise concubinage as creating any status, whether legal or social.

A child is defined under the law as any person under the age of 18. However, a child over the age of 18 and family members, including parents, may qualify as dependants depending on the peculiar circumstance surrounding their relationship and how the applicant can justify that they qualify as dependants.

Conditions and restrictions

Are dependants automatically allowed to work or attend school?

No, dependants are not allowed to automatically work on their dependency status. However, dependants can attend school on their dependency status.

In addition, dependants can, in some circumstances, telecommute, volunteer and undergo unpaid internships.

For a dependant to be able to work, they must obtain a work and residence permit. The sponsor or employer must apply for a work and residence permit for the dependant. Upon approval, the dependant’s dependant residence permit is cancelled and replaced with a residence permit that is tied to their employment.

Access to social benefits

What social benefits are dependants entitled to?

Dependants are entitled to all social and public benefits that the principal is entitled to and enjoys.

 

Other requirements, restrictions and penalties

Criminal convictions

Are prior criminal convictions a barrier to obtaining immigration permission?

Yes, certain prior criminal convictions may serve as a barrier to obtaining immigration permission.

Penalties for non-compliance

What are the penalties for companies and individuals for non-compliance with immigration law? How are these applied in practice?

Companies are liable to pay a fine for non-compliance.

Individuals are liable to pay a fine for non-compliance or may, in extreme cases, be removed from Ghana.

The Ghana Immigration Service (GIS) has stepped up its enforcement function over the past year and fined several companies and individuals for non-compliance with immigration laws and regulations.

 

Language requirements

Are there any minimum language requirements for migrants?

No, there is no minimum language requirement for migrants.

Medical screening

Is medical screening required to obtain immigration permission?

Yes. First-time applicants for work permits are required to undergo medical examination at the GIS medical facility in Accra.

Secondment

Is there a specific procedure for employees on secondment to a client site in your jurisdiction?

No, there is no specific procedure for employees on secondment to a client site. The employer will apply for work and residence permits for the employees, just like any other work and residence permit application. However, the employer must be a company duly registered in Ghana. 

Update and trends

Key developments of the past year

Are there any emerging trends or hot topics in corporate immigration regulation in your jurisdiction?

There is renewed emphasis on local content policies and companies, especially those in the oil and gas sector, must evidence that they were unable to recruit for the skill needed locally before they can apply for a work permit for an expatriate worker. Where an expatriate is employed, there is a requirement for skills to be transferred to a Ghanaian understudy and a succession plan detailing the training that will be provided to the understudy is required by the Petroleum Commission. It is envisaged that local content polices will also be strictly enforced in other sectors.

Law stated date

Correct on

Give the date on which the information above is accurate.

15 July 2019.