Regulatory framework and trends

Trends and developments

Have there been any notable recent trends or developments regarding business-related immigration in your jurisdiction, including any government policy initiatives?

Notable recent trends regarding business immigration include the following:

  • The National Migration Policy (April 2016) aims to provide a comprehensive framework to promote the benefits and minimise the costs of internal and international migration through legal means. Among other objectives, the policy addresses strategic concerns, including:
    • immigration data and information management;
    • border management;
    • forced migration;
    • citizenship; and
    • transnationalism.
  • The policy regarding so-called ‘visas on arrival’, which do not require pre-approval, has been extended to all African Union (AU) member states. Under the policy, nationals of any AU member state may travel to Ghana without prior approval or visa and obtain a single-entry 30-day visa on arrival at the airport. The policy aims to promote tourism and boost economic integration in the AU.
  • Over the past few years, so-called ‘rotator permits’ have been introduced in the oil and gas sector to reduce the processing times of short-term work permits for oil and gas professionals.

Domestic law

What legislation and regulations govern immigration in your jurisdiction?

The primary legislation and regulations governing immigration are:

  • the Immigration Act 2000 (Act 573) (as amended); and
  • the Immigration Regulations 2001 (LI 1691).

The Ghana Immigration Service (GIS) is the frontline agency responsible for the entry, residence and employment of foreign nationals in Ghana. The country’s immigration landscape provides for a number of regulatory agencies in this regard, including:

  • the Petroleum Commission, which oversees companies engaged in upstream petroleum activities;
  • the Minerals Commission of Ghana, which oversees mining companies; and
  • the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre.

International agreements

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

Yes. Ghana is a signatory to:

  • the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) protocol on the free movement of persons, which grants West African member state nationals visa-free access to any other member state for a 90-day period; and
  • the Right of Residence and Establishment (A/P1/5/79) protocol, which affords all West African member state nationals visa-free access to Ghana in the spirit of promoting free trade and regional integration in Africa.

Further, Ghana has entered into a number of bilateral agreements, which grant visa-free access for a 90-day period to:

  • holders of diplomatic, service or official passports from:
    • Cuba;
    • Germany;
    • Brazil;
    • Iran; or
    • Namibia; and
  • nationals of:
    • Kenya;
    • Lesotho;
    • Malawi;
    • Singapore;
    • South Africa;
    • Tanzania;
    • Trinidad and Tobago;
    • Uganda;
    • Zimbabwe;
    • Namibia; or
    • Equatorial Guinea.

Regulatory authorities

Which government authorities regulate immigration and what is the extent of their enforcement powers?

The government authorities regulating immigration are:

  • the Ministry of the Interior (via the GIS), which can arrest, detain for further examination, prosecute and deport persons considered illegal immigrants; and
  • the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (via the embassies), which can:
    • issue and refuse visas;
    • implement national policy; and
    • participate in negotiations and interpretations of international agreements.

Can the decisions of these authorities be appealed?

Yes. Persons other than illegal immigrants who are aggrieved by a refusal to grant or renew their permit, have their permit revoked or are subject to repatriation may appeal to the Ministry of the Interior for redress within seven days of the action. Immigration authority decisions may be appealed before the High Court.

Recent case law

Has there been any notable recent case law regarding immigration?

Yes. In The Republic v High Court ex parte Minister for the Interior and the Comptroller General (Civil Motion J5/10/2018), the Supreme Court held that the High Court has no jurisdiction to entertain an order for mandamus against the GIS where the applicant has neither commenced nor exhausted the procedure provided for in the Immigration Act. 

Business visitors

Visa requirements

In what circumstances is a visa required for business visitors?

Business visas are required for visitors who are entering Ghana to engage in short-term business activities.

Restrictions

What restrictions are imposed on business visitors in terms of the work that they may undertake and their period of stay in your jurisdiction?

Persons on short-term business visas are generally restricted from engaging in paid employment or work. Short-term business visa holders may engage only in short-term business transactions while in Ghana. Permissible activities include:

  • consultations with business associates;
  • travel for scientific purposes;
  • education;
  • conventions and conferences;
  • contract negotiations;
  • training;
  • auditing; and
  • estate settlement.

The typical period of stay for visitors on business visas (B1 Visa) ranges from 30 to 60 days; however, visitors may apply to extend this by up to 90 days. 

Application and entry

How are business visitor visas obtained and what is the typical turnaround time?

Business visas can be obtained from any Ghanaian embassy, high commission or consulate in the applicant’s home country. Visitors from countries without a Ghanaian consular or diplomatic representative are eligible for an emergency visa on arrival. Emergency visas must be pre-approved before travelling to Ghana.

The turnaround time for acquiring a business visa ranges from seven to 10 working days. Some embassies offer fast-track services.

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

Yes – the visa waiver programme applies to:

  • nationals of the Economic Community of West African States;
  • nationals of countries with whom Ghana has a reciprocal agreement;
  • holders of diplomatic passports from certain countries; and
  • holders of official passports of certain international organisations.

Obtaining an emergency visa on arrival is a fast-track option for visitors who fulfil one of the following criteria:

  • their country of origin has no Ghanaian embassy; or
  • urgent travel plans meant that they had no time to visit the Ghanaian embassy in their country of origin.

Visa wavier applications must be made in-country and approved by the comptroller general of immigration before travelling.

Short-term training

What rules and procedures apply for visitors seeking to undertake short-term training in your jurisdiction?

Visitors seeking to undertake short-term training (ie, less than 90 days) must apply for a business visa (B1 Visa).

Transit

In what circumstances is a transit visa required to pass through your jurisdiction? How is it obtained?

Transit visas permit travellers to spend time in Ghana between flights or transfer to another port in order to reach a destination outside Ghana. Travel visas may be obtained in-country or at a Ghanaian embassy.

Sponsored immigration

New hires

What sponsored visas or work permits are available to employers seeking to hire foreign nationals in your jurisdiction? What are the eligibility criteria, application procedures and maximum period of stay for each?

Short-term work permits (six months)Short-term work permits are available for assignments of less than six months and may be renewed once.

To be eligible to sponsor a short-term work permit application, a company must:

  • be duly registered in accordance with Ghanaian law;
  • be tax compliant and possess a valid tax clearance certificate; and
  • possess the requisite licence to operate in the relevant sector (if applicable).

Short-term work permit applications must be made in-country prior to arrival in Ghana.

Foreign nationals applying for a short-term work permit must:

  • possess a valid passport;
  • possess an employment contract with the sponsor company;
  • be medically fit to work in Ghana; and
  • possess applicable skills and expertise which no Ghanaian national has.

Long-term work permitsLong-term work permits are available for assignments lasting one year or more and may be renewed repeatedly.

To be eligible to sponsor a long-term work permit application, a company must:

  • be duly registered in accordance with Ghanaian law;
  • be tax compliant and possess a valid tax clearance certificate; and
  • possess the requisite licence to operate in the relevant sector (if applicable).

Foreign nationals applying for long-term work permits must:

  • possess a valid passport;
  • be employed or possess an employment contract with the sponsor company;
  • be medically fit to work in Ghana;
  • possess applicable skills and expertise which no Ghanaian national has; and
  • present a police clearance certificate obtained from their country of origin or current residence.

GIPC automatic immigrant quotasGhana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) automatic immigrant quotas are indefinite work permits allocated to GIPC-registered companies. The number of quotas to which a company is entitled to is determined by the level of foreign equity or capital invested into the company’s operations in Ghana. This allocation is made on application by the company to the GIPC to use its quota once the need to employ a foreign national arises.

To be eligible to sponsor a GIPC automatic immigrant quota application, a company must:

  • be duly registered in accordance with Ghanaian law;
  • be tax compliant and possess a valid tax clearance certificate;
  • possess a valid GIPC certificate; and
  • possess an unused quota.

Foreign nationals who are sponsored under a GIPC quota application must:

  • possess a valid passport;
  • be employed or possess an employment contract with the sponsor company; and
  • provide their CV and a detailed job description.

Intra-company transfers

What sponsored visas or work permits are available to multinational employers seeking to transfer foreign employees to your jurisdiction? What are the eligibility criteria, application procedures and maximum period of stay for each?

Ghana has no intra-company transfer work permit category. Intra-company transferees require either a short or long-term work permit if the company is ineligible for a GIPC automatic immigrant quota.

Do any special rules govern secondments?

Secondments are not specifically provided for under Ghana’s immigration laws; however, in practice, persons on secondment usually obtain a work authorisation for the duration of their secondment.

Sponsor requirements and considerations

What are the eligibility and procedural requirements for employers to sponsor foreign employees?

To be eligible to sponsor a foreign employee, a company must:

  • be duly registered in accordance with Ghanaian law;
  • be tax compliant and possess a valid tax clearance certificate;
  • possess the requisite licence to operate in the relevant sector; and
  • conduct a labour market search for a Ghanaian employee before offering the role to a foreign national.

Companies sponsoring foreign employees must apply to the Ghana Immigration Service (GIS) for a work permit. The application must include the company’s letterhead in addition to the following:

  • the company’s business registration documents;
  • an offer letter, appointment letter or employment contract for the foreign employee;
  • a letter of support from the ministry, agency or regulator of the sector in which the company operates;
  • a GIPC certificate (if the company is registered with the GIPC); and
  • a valid tax clearance certificate.

What ongoing reporting and record-keeping requirements apply to sponsors?

Sponsors must file an annual return before 14 January each year listing their foreign employees. Failure to file this statutory requirement may incur penalties for the sponsor and any affected individuals.

Sponsors must retain copies of their foreign employees’ work and residence permits for auditing purposes.

In what circumstances (if any) must the employer submit to resident labour market testing before hiring or transferring foreign employees? Do any exemptions apply?

In general, labour market testing is required before any foreign employees are transferred or hired to occupy positions in Ghana. Work permit applications must disclose whether the available position was first advertised locally.

Some sectors have strict labour market testing requirements. For example, the oil and gas sector regulator, the Petroleum Commission, requires all vacant positions to be advertised in designated newspapers and work permit applications must provide evidence of such advertising. Further, if no Ghanaian national is hired, a Ghanaian understudy must be recruited to shadow the prospective foreign employee.

Employers will usually be exempted from submitting a labour market test when applying for short-term (ie, six-month) work permits.

GIPC-registered companies using an automatic immigrant quota do not submit to labour market testing, as automatic immigrant quotas are contingent on investments made into the country rather than the availability of a Ghanaian national to fill the position.

Are there any annual quota limits or restrictions on certain positions that can be filled by foreign nationals?

There are no annual quota limits; however, the types of position available to foreign nationals are restricted (eg, roles must be highly technical and outside the expertise of a Ghanaian national). In general, the Ghanaian authorities may refuse work permits for administrative and secretarial roles.

Are there any immigration exemptions or other special schemes for shortage occupations in your jurisdiction?

No.

How long does it typically take to obtain a sponsored visa? Is expedited visa processing available?

It normally takes four to eight weeks to obtain a sponsored work or residence permit. Expedited visa processing is unavailable for sponsored visas.

What rules govern the hiring of foreign third-party contractors?

No specific rules apply to foreign third-party contractors; however, they should to be sponsored by an entity that meets the requirements for sponsoring work authorisation in Ghana.

What are the penalties for sponsor non-compliance with the relevant immigration laws and regulations?

Sponsors must pay a fine for non-compliance; however, in cases involving serious breaches – such as engaging in acts which are inimical to the peace and stability of the state – harsher penalties (eg, deportation) may be enforced. 

Are there any other special considerations for sponsors in your jurisdiction?

N/A.

General employee requirements

Must sponsored employees meet any language requirements?

No – sponsored employees are not required to meet any language requirements.

Are sponsored employees subject to any medical checks?

Yes. First-time applicants for work permits must undergo a medical examination at the GIS medical facility in Accra. Visitors will be eligible to work in Ghana if they have been declared medically fit to do so.

Must sponsored employees meet any medical or other insurance requirements?

No medical or other insurance requirements apply to sponsored employees. 

Are sponsored employees subject to any security or background checks?

Yes. To process a work permit, the immigration authorities require a police clearance certificate from an employee’s home country as proof of non-conviction. In general, police clearance certificates cannot be more than one year old. 

Are sponsored employees subject to any restrictions on studying or working second or volunteer jobs?

Yes. Sponsored employees cannot study, take on secondary employment or accept volunteering jobs while on a work permit.

Are there any rules or standards governing the equivalence of sponsored employees’ foreign qualifications?

No rules or standards govern the equivalence of sponsored employees’ foreign qualifications.

What are the penalties for employee non-compliance with the relevant immigration laws and regulations?

An employee or foreign national who does not comply with the relevant laws and regulations is liable to pay a fine. Depending on the severity of the offence, they may also be deported.

Unsponsored immigration

Highly skilled individuals

What unsponsored immigration routes are available for highly skilled foreign nationals to seek employment in your jurisdiction? What are the eligibility criteria, application procedures and maximum period of stay for each?

There are no unsponsored immigration routes available for highly skilled foreign nationals seeking employment in Ghana. Ghana’s immigration laws require that all work permit applications are applied for by the sponsor or employer and not the employee or the individual seeking employment.

Entrepreneurs

What unsponsored immigration routes are available for entrepreneurs seeking to establish a business in your jurisdiction? What are the eligibility criteria, application procedures and maximum period of stay for each?

Entrepreneurs may form and register a company at the Registrar General’s Department. They may, by reason that they are company shareholders, acquire a residence permit, which permits them to work in Ghana legally.

Investors

What unsponsored immigration routes are available for foreign investors seeking to invest in your jurisdiction? What are the eligibility criteria, application procedures and maximum period of stay for each?

As with foreign entrepreneurs, individual foreign investors may, by reason of their investments, acquire a residence permit if they wish to stay and work in Ghana. 

Ancestry

Are any immigration routes open to foreign nationals based on ancestry or descent?

Yes. A person born outside Ghana whose parent or grandparent is Ghanaian is considered a Ghanaian national and may accept employment in Ghana and obtain all associated benefits.

African diasporic descendants may acquire right of abode status if they:

  • are aged 18 years or older;
  • are of good character (as attested to by two Ghanaians);
  • have not been convicted of a criminal offence; and
  • have not been sentenced to imprisonment of 12 months or more.

Further, the applicant must have independent means and must be capable of contributing substantially to the development of Ghana. Applicants who are granted right of abode status can work and reside in Ghana indefinitely.

Other routes

Are there any other unsponsored immigration routes?

No other unsponsored immigration routes exist.

Extensions, permanent residence and citizenship

Extensions and status changes

Can short-term visa or work permit holders switch to long-term visas? If so, what conditions and procedures apply?

Yes. A short-term work permit holder can switch to a long-term permit. Sponsors must apply for long-term permits on behalf of applicants. In such cases, the application is treated as a fresh application and thus all requirements which apply to long-term permit applications apply. For applications in the oil and gas sector, the Regulator of the Petroleum Commission may require additional justification.

Under what conditions can long-term visas be extended?

A long-term visa may be extended if an employer requires its employee to continue working. The renewal process is similar to the initial work permit application, as almost all documents supplied during the initial stage must be resubmitted to the authorities.

Permanent residence

Can long-term visa holders apply for permanent residence? If so, what conditions and procedures apply?

Yes. Long-term visa holders may apply for an indefinite residence permit if they:

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

Citizenship

Can long-term visa holders or permanent residents apply for citizenship? If so, what conditions and procedures apply?

Yes. Long-term visa holders or permanent residents may apply for Ghanaian citizenship either by registration or naturalisation.  

RegistrationA permanent resident or long-term visa holder may apply to the president, through the Foreign Ministry, to be registered as a Ghanaian citizen 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.

NaturalisationA permanent resident or long-term visa holder may apply to be naturalised as a Ghanaian citizen if they:

  • have resided in Ghana for:
    • 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 sentenced to prison for 12 months or more;
  • have independent means;
  • can make a substantial contribution to Ghana’s development;
  • can speak and understand an indigenous language; and
  • have been or can be assimilated into the Ghanaian way of life.

Dependants

Eligibility

Who qualifies as a dependant for immigration purposes?

Under Ghana’s immigration law, ‘dependants’ include children under 18 years of age and spouses. 

Conditions and restrictions

What conditions and restrictions apply to bringing dependants to your jurisdiction (including with respect to access to labour markets, education and public benefits)?

Dependants are issued with dependant residence permits. Dependant residence permits remain valid for the same duration as the principal applicant’s residence permit; once the latter expires or is terminated, any associated dependant permits are extinguished. In terms of public benefits, dependants enjoy the same benefits as the principal applicant. In certain circumstances, dependants may study, telecommute, volunteer and undergo unpaid internships.

However, residents with dependant status cannot undertake employment or paid internships, provide consultations or own businesses.

Dependant residence permit applications must include:

  • a copy of the dependant’s:
    • marriage certificate for spousal dependants; or
    • birth certificate for child dependants;
  • an application letter;
  • completed statutory forms; and
  • passport photographs.