Different reasons abound why Nigerians travel abroad, just as many factors determine their country of destination. For many, such trips may be for medical attention, conferences and seminars, academic studies and vacation. Apart from these reasons, the search for greener pastures ultimately results in some relocating completely.
Whatever might account for their trips, the preferred destinations are usually developed countries like United States of America, United Kingdom, France and Canada.
However, considering the huge number of intending travellers, many have ended with tales of woes and horrible experiences at the embassies of most of these countries. For instance, it has been Herculean task lately for Nigerians to secure interview appointment dates for visa at the embassies, with UK and US being the tormentors-in-chief.
Investigations reveal that they have secured the services of agents charging between N75,000 and N80,000 to handle interview even when visa interview is intended for a more in-depth interaction between the applicant and the representative of a diplomatic office.
A foreign national, wishing to visit the USA will first obtain either a non-immigrant visa for temporary stay or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. Also citizens of qualified countries may visit the US without a visa under the Visa Waiver Programme.
Reports trended recently how Nigerians who applied for US visa could not secure appointment dates for interviews despite payment of the mandatory visa fees. According to the reports, after payment, once an applicant attempts to make an interview appointment, the applicant is informed through the US Embassy’s consultant website CGI INC that there are no available dates for visa appointments.
A victim, who only identified herself as Adamma, lamented that despite the invitation to attend a conference in California, she could not secure appointment date on her own for over a month. She panicked when the date for her travel was fast approaching, reached out to an agent who told her point blank to pay N75,000 and she will get it in less than 10 minutes.
Another victim, George, had a medical appointment in Maryland, but despite being to the US severally in the past, he still had harrowing delay in securing appointment date for his scheduled interview. After waiting in vain, tickets already bought, he called the embassy to express his anxiety, he was told to keep trying. Frustrated, he turned to an agent who told him to pay N80,000, to secure his appointment date in no time.
President, Centre for Social Awareness, Advocacy and Ethics (CSAAEINC), Dr Godswill Agbagwe, narrated how a Cath- olic priest, took to his Facebook wall calling for signatures to get the National Assembly and Presidency to act and start regulating what he called malpractice in the US embassy.
Miffed by the development, the Executive Vice President, Tolea Energy, Chikezie Nwosu, who started the campaign within few two days, has already gathered 360 signatures out of the one million he is targeting before the end of the one month campaign. He said he hoped to get enough signatures to get the Senate to institute a bill that will check the activities of the agents:
“It is a nightmare that we are facing in Nigeria. We are not focusing on one embassy, is all the embassies that treat Nigerians like animals. I want to get as many signatures as possible even if it takes me a month and then forward to the National Assembly. What I want them to do is to regulate the agents and the embassies.
“What the embassies have done is to distance themselves from the issue of granting visas, putting Nigerian visa centres in charge of even its VFS global. The visa centres now in the forefront of this thing are scamming Nigerians and I can give you many examples.
“From the payment you make to them, the embassies of the countries only get the visa fees. It is a massive scam, perpetrated by the embassies and their visa application centre cohorts. That is why the embassies have started contracting out the application process to corrupt agents and agencies with VFS and TLS Contact the worst.
“They will charge you for a premium or VIP lounge, charge you for ‘priority’ processing, even if you start well on time. They will frustrate you and through dubious agents block all dates to force you to pay to ‘open’ them. This whole process (industry?) needs to be regulated. With enough signatures, we can get the National Assembly and Presidency to act and start regulating this malpractice.
“At the UK visa application centre, I paid £100 for me to use the VIP lounge, almost £60 to hold my passport and another £55 for God knows what, all these are after paying the visa fees. To have priority service, which I am totally against, you pay £600.
“Can you imagine if the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), was doing this to us before we get our passports or driver’s license? We will all say it is corruption. If the actual fee is N5000 for instance, anybody that pays above N5000 is bribing somebody. If it is our country we will shout corruption but this is the same scam that these people are carrying out by compelling us to pay all manner of things.
“Another thing is that these agents, characteristic of some Nigerian companies, engage in questionable things. These agents who have no business of traveling block these dates for the travellers looking for appointment date for interview, compelling them to pay N80,000 to unblock the date. The embassies cannot claim ignorance of what is going on but they pretend, claiming that Nigerians are scamming themselves.
“There are whole litanies of issues these agents are engaged in. When you photocopy your documents even from one of the top rated photocopy printers and take to them, they will claim it is not good enough, insisting you photocopy at their own centre. So they are a whole lot of little scams they are engaged in.
“At my scheduled 13:30pm appointment on June 11, 2019 at TLSContact, which handles the UK visa submissions, I had arrived quite early at 12:45pm with all documents for submission ready. My last UK visa was a hassle-free 10-years (2008-2018) in Düsseldorf, but I had since given up my EU residency to relocate and work in Nigeria. Note that I am the same person (actually, with improved status compared to 2008), only now resident in Nigeria!
“I went through the grind and waited till 13:45 with other fellow Nigerians, and we were ushered in like ‘lambs awaiting for slaughter’ by the Nigerian ‘gods’ in charge at TLSContact on Ajose Adeogun Street, Victoria island, Lagos.
“I later found out that my ‘big’ friends didn’t go through the hassle and I was really amazed at how these foreign embassies and their Nigerian organizers make this a very difficult and expensive process. The ‘big men and women’ pay for all sorts of ‘Value Added Services’, which are just scams, because of our desperation.
“I learnt my lesson the hard way! The only reason I was going to this BREXIT crisis-ridden country is for the double gradu- ation of my last two ‘adults’ for their Masters, the first of which is for September 2, 2019.
“Because of how often I travel to Europe, the US, Asia and Africa/ME, I paid to keep my passport, with the understanding that once the visa decision was reached, I would be contacted to drop the passport. By email, the visa decision was communicated on July 16 and I was informed I would be contacted shortly.
“On the basis of ‘shortly’, I flew back to Nigeria on July 27 to drop my passport, attend to some business and the SPE NAICE 2019, and hopefully get it back for my return trip to the Netherlands on August 12.
“After waiting for a few days, without being contacted, I reached out to TLSContact and was told that I needed to wait to be invited. Several emails later from me, for which all I received was automated messages, I flew back to the Netherlands on August 12, as planned.
“I then contacted UKVI by phone (note that TLSContact in Lagos has no phone number they can be reached at – part of their scam), each time paying about £15-£20 by credit card, above my provider’s usual charges. UKVI opened a case for me on August 21 that would take 15 working days, making it impossible for me to attend my daughter’s graduation on September 2.
“On Monday, August 26, and after spending over £80 calling UKVI, their agent asked me to contact immigration lawyers, as I clearly had a valid grievance. Apparently, nobody is now sure of where this visa decision is. UKVI say they cannot find it in their system as it’s been auctioned and TLSContact is not sure if they have it, or if it is in the British Consulate in Abuja or Lagos.
“Having contacted a UK immigration lawyer and a lawyer in Lagos, I will sue UKVI & TLSContact, not for rejecting a visa (which I understand is their prerogative), but by frustrating the process of issuing one they have granted by their ineptitude.
“My visa application was granted over six-weeks ago and the decision never delivered to me. In addition, I have started circulating a Change.org petition, which will form the basis of my putting forward a bill to the National Assembly, through some friends, to start regulating the activities of these Visa Application Centres, their agents, cohorts in the country embassies etc. At this time, I asked people who have similar bad experiences to post it here and permit me to use this for these cases.”
Agbagwe said he was joining the campaign to get a good number of Nigerians to sign the petition because of his personal experience: “The US Embassy in particular is notorious for denying Nigerians visa for no good reason. To even secure a date for an interview is a hell.
“I have three youths in my organisation attending the World Bank Civil Society Policy Forum in October 2019. We have paid the N59,000 visa application fee for each of them but no interview date in September.
“The annoying thing is that you cannot even check for date very frequently in case someone cancels. You have a limit to the number of times you can log in to check for available date.
“But agents are asking us to pay N80,000 to get us a date in September. How will the agents get the date? Is it not the same platform that we are checking that they are checking?
“What is going on here please? This is ridiculous. We shall get the signatories. The youths in my organisation will all sign it. We must put an end to this nonsense. I am a U.S. citizen and I do not need a visa to enter over 150 countries but I can’t sit and watch my people suffer.”
Another victim, Iheanacho Christabel, said: “Not only the American embassy. Most embassies are looking for ways to frustrate Nigerians with so much strictness. Everyone knows Nigeria does not do traveller’s check and credit card, yet that’s what this embassy wants in place of bank statement. These two documents are required from Nigerians alone. Other countries are free to submit their bank statements. Why is this high-handedness?”
US embassy reacts
The Embassy of US, Abuja, denied blocking appointment dates for visa interview of Nigerians seeking to travel to that country. Its Public Affairs Department in response to a question by the Daily Sun said: “There has been no block on visa interviews. There are interview appointment opportunities available.