On February 22, 2020, the United States would, as a rule, cease granting immigrant visas to Nigerians. Immigrant visas enable their recipients extended stay in the US. They are granted to those who may decide to settle down in the US. It is the first step to permanent residency status, which could eventually lead to citizenship. The new restrictions is not expected to affect the regular issuance of visas to Nigerians who wish to visit the US as tourists, or students who go to further their education, or, for that matter, business men and women, who go to the US on business.
Nigeria is not alone in the latest US via restriction. Five other countries – Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Sudan and Tanzania – are also under the new regulations.
The Donald Trump administration in the United States, from its inception, had made restricted immigration a central core of its policy. Indeed, as a candidate in 2015, Trump had called for a total, complete ban of Muslims from entering the US. And when he became president, he tried to implement such a policy. He banned some Muslim-majority nations – Iran, Somalia, Syria, Libya, and Yemen; non-Muslim countries affected were North Korea and Venezuela. At first the ban smacked of religious discrimination, which shocked the world and led to series of litigations in US courts until the US Supreme Court finally gave it constitutional support.
When the restrictions were initially announced at the end of last month, it led to a great deal of anxiety among Nigerians who at first imagined it was a sign of deteriorating US-Nigeria relations. On closer analysis, however, it has not looked as bad as it appeared, especially after last week when the bi-national commission of both countries met in Washington DC. There was a tone of cordiality and, indeed, some speculation that the visa restriction would be re-visited by the US State Department. The statistics and figures of the visas were not as alarming when it was found that on the average year, the US approves approximately 140,000 regular visas for Nigerians, constituting 95 per cent of all visas. The immigrant visas number about 8,000 per year or a little more than five per cent.
Indeed, the view of some Nigerians after the conclusion of the Bi-National Commission is that the visa restrictions were imposed using performance metrics by the US Government to evaluate Nigeria’s compliance with certain security indices. The US had said Nigeria failed to meet the minimum requirement for verifying travellers’ identities and to ascertain whether individuals posed a national security threat. Immigrant visas were targeted because people with those kinds of visas are the most difficult to remove after they arrive in the US.
In response to these issues, President Muhammadu Buhari had established a committee to “study and address the updated US requirements. The committee will work with the US government, Interpol and other stakeholders to ensure all updates are properly implemented.” Before now, it was a widely held view by US officials that Nigerians tend to over-stay their visas. Even among Nigerians, there is an overwhelming sense of insecurity, the upsurge in violent crimes, kidnappings and insurgency, which seem to make other countries apprehensive of Nigerians. And recent violence, murders, kidnappings have put most Nigerians on edge at home. Indeed, we appeal to the government to demonstrate some determination to deal with the insecurity in the country. It is not only that it scars foreign investors and discourages domestic investment, it sends wrong signals abroad, which could lead to a negative measure like the visa restrictions.
We appeal to the Rauf Aregbesola committee to work conscientiously not only to allay the security concerns of the US but also to provide Nigerians a sense of security. This is not the first visa restriction being imposed on Nigeria. We remember that in 1984 during the Ronald Reagan administration, we also came under similar if not harsher restrictions.
But we must admit that many of these impositions are a reflection of the state of our own security situation and our leadership performance. We must appreciate our own shortcomings, our wide open land borders which we can hardly secure, our national identity card programme, which is out of control, and, sometimes, there is no certainty of who is a Nigerian. We urge the committee to work hard to obtain relief for Nigerians in their quest for visas not only for US but also to lessen their burden and a lot of indignity Nigerians sometimes go through at foreign embassies in Nigeria.