By Elizabeth Eni
The United States’ new policy on the indefinite suspension of interview waivers for visa renewals for Nigerian applicants should not come to us as a surprise. It would be recalled that U.S. President Donald Trump in 2017 signed an Executive Order aimed at protecting the country from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States. Section 8 of that Order states that “The Secretary of State shall immediately suspend the Visa Interview Waiver Program and ensure compliance with section 222 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1222, which requires that all individuals seeking a non-immigrant visa undergo an in-person interview subject to specific statutory exceptions.”
This order was put into effect in Nigeria last week when the U.S. Embassy released a press statement saying henceforth, all visa applications must be done online. The statement read in part, “Effective at the close of business today, Tuesday, May 14, 2019, the U.S. Mission to Nigeria is indefinitely suspending interview waivers for renewals, otherwise known as the “Dropbox” process. Visa applications will no longer be accepted by DHL in Nigeria………….. All applicants in Nigeria seeking a non-immigrant visa to the United States must apply online, and will be required to appear in-person at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja or U.S. Consulate General in Lagos to submit their application for review,” the statement read.
Before the suspension, holders of U.S. visa types B1/B2, F, H, and L could renew their visas online and then submit their passports and accompanying documents through DHL for processing, without having to physically attend an interview at U.S. embassy in Abuja or the Consulate in Lagos.
No Nigerian should be surprised about the U.S. new visa policy as the government of Donald Trump has never hidden its anti-immigration stance since inception. His administration disclosed last month it was considering series of punishments, including visa restrictions, for countries whose citizens have a track record of overstaying their visas.
Nigeria should not expect to escape this punishment as her citizens are notorious for flouting this immigration law? The U.S. Homeland Security data indicate that 29,723 Nigerians overstayed their non-immigrant visas between October 1, 2017 and September 30, 2018. The report showed that while 719 of this figure left the country after their visas expired, there was no departure record for 29,004. This is an indication that some of them may still be living illegally in the U.S.
Beyond the issue of visa overstays, Nigeria’s reputation for crime has contributed largely to the way they are treated by foreign countries. So many Nigerians are serving jail terms in foreign countries for crimes such as drug and human trafficking, financial crimes, internet fraud, forgery, robbery, etc. Some of these crimes have even been branded Nigerian scam. The country’s reputation has become so bastardized to the extent that every Nigerian traveller is viewed as a suspect and treated with disdain at various airports abroad, unlike in the good old days when they were treated with respect.
So rather than lament the U.S. tougher visa regime, Nigerians and their government should view it as a wake-up call to develop their country. It is a tragedy that a country so blessed with natural, material and human resources is still wallowing in poverty. The industrial base is already crippled resulting in the high unemployment rate the country is facing now.
Nigerians need a government that will fix the economy to create job opportunities and improve the living standard of the people as it has been established that most Nigerians who migrate abroad do so for purely economic reasons – to seek better opportunities. Creating an enabling environment will help to reduce considerably the rate of migration of Nigerians and criminality.
As for Nigerian travellers, they must understand that their activities will always have direct impact on others in the way they are treated. If a few Nigerians are notorious for criminal activities, every Nigerian is tagged a criminal. Those travelling abroad for better fortunes should endevour to seek legitimate sources of livelihood rather than engage in criminal activities, thereby tarnishing the image of the country and attracting hatred to Nigerian people. The consequences of violating other countries’ law by a few Nigerians will be suffered by all Nigerians.
Therefore, Nigerian travellers should be law abiding in their host countries and stop tarnishing the image of the country. If they continue to abuse the immigration, financial and other laws of the countries that have granted them entry, then they and law abiding Nigerians will suffer the consequences.