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USA: Visa By Ordeal

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EditPro | Lagos Metropolitan newspaper By Wole Olaoye

There are only very few instances of humiliation and frustration that can compare with what the average Nigerian goes through in a quest for a US visa. You would think America was Paradise or something close. You would think that the applicant’s very life depended on the granting or denial of that visa. But if I may creatively tweak Fela’s wise words in ‘Alagbon Close’, “Visa na visa, na country dey different”. 

Today, on average, a Nigerian intending to visit the US under the B1/B2 category may have to wait for two years to be interviewed. The US embassy visa application platform is relatively user-friendly. But try booking an interview date and you’ll wind up with a two-year wait. Many of those who applied in the first quarter of 2022 have been shocked to find out that they have to wait until 2024 to be interviewed.

 In 2020, former president Donald Trump added Nigeria to the list of countries whose citizens were banned from emigrating to the United States. Last year, President Joe Biden reversed the ban on his first day in office. There were hopes that the shabby treatment usually meted out to Nigerians had gone with the Trump era. We celebrated too early.

I used to think that diplomatic relations were based on the principle of reciprocity. In international relations, the principle asserts that favours, benefits, or penalties that are granted by one state to the citizens or legal entities of another, should be returned in kind.

However, that is not the case in the relations between Nigeria and the US. Whereas Americans can get expedited processing of their visas in Nigerian consulates in the US, depending on the type applied for, that gesture is not replicated here. A quick check online shows that there are three categories of processing available to US citizens intending to visit Nigeria, classified as Standard; Rush; and Super Rush. The fees are graduated depending on one’s choice. Standard takes six working days or more; Rush is expected to take four days while Super Rush is advertised as taking only two days to process.

I am not aware that an American will have to wait for two years to be interviewed to visit Nigeria. It is happening before our very eyes here in Africa’s largest country and it seems our government is totally ignorant of or can’t be bothered with what is going on.

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Even when Nigerians eventually get a date for the interview, there are sometimes bizarre cases of visa refusal based on the ignorance of the interviewing consular staff. For example, one applicant was asked by the interviewer why he was going to take up another admission for a Master’s degree in the US when he already had one Master’s degree from the UK. He replied that his UK degree was in computer science and that what he was planning to study in America was Artificial Intelligence. The consular officer said that as far as she was concerned, computer science and Artificial Intelligence were one and the same thing. Visa Denied!

It is now established that a letter of admission to a US university and even the payment of fees does not guarantee any student a visa. 

What about those with urgent requests pertaining to family engagements or health issues or even important conferences? The US website gives the assurance that “Those with a life-or-death emergency may request an expedited, in-person interview … (but)  Business travel, conferences, weddings and graduations are not considered emergencies.” 

Victor Tamuno, a Lagos-based travel agent, speaking to Quartz Africa, explained that what is happening is a carry-over of the discrimination against Nigerians during the Trump era. He said he has had several “overqualified” clients with varying goals, from schooling to conferences and short vacations denied visas.

“At a point, you won’t know who they’d give a visa to. They just denied people for little or no reason”

The US Embassy warns those seeking visas not to patronise touts. In its “Special Note”, it says, “Third parties unaffiliated with US Embassy Abuja and Consulate General Lagos may seek to take advantage of various visa services to target visa applicants with fraudulent offers or claims.”

When you set up a system designed to frustrate people, they are bound to find a way around it. Your carefully orchestrated stultification will meet its match.

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An industry has therefore developed out of the collective misery visited on visa applicants. Touts and some travel agents have stepped into the gap to bridge the chasm between the submission of a visa application and securing a date for an interview. The fees charged range from N100,000 to N500,000, depending on the applicant’s desperation. Touting is a business carried out in the open, in spaces adjacent to the US Embassy in Abuja and the Consulate in Lagos.

The US Embassy is very much aware of the game. Earlier this year, the US Consular Coordinator, Susan Tuller, advised Nigerians against transacting business with touts.

 “Unfortunately”, said Tuller, “visa facilitators and travel agents, and some others manipulate our visa appointment system for their own financial gain. And even though in Lagos, they operate in the parking lot right next door to our Consular operations, we really have little control over that because they’re not operating on our property and we can’t police them ourselves. Unfortunately, the visa facilitators here operate with impunity … And as long as Nigerians continue to pay very high fees to them to secure an appointment, that will likely continue and that makes it very hard for us to really control the number of visa appointments that we make available.”

Tuller advises Nigerians to go through the straight and narrow way that leads to the Elysium called USA. 

I wonder how many Americans have to engage touts to help them secure interview dates for Nigerian visas! Why is one animal more equal than the other?

The least one would expect of the Nigerian government is to reciprocate the US frustration of Nigerians in the visa matter. If it takes 400 days for a Nigerian to secure an interview date for a US visa, it shouldn’t take the American desirous of visiting Nigeria one day less. That is my understanding of reciprocity. I am told that a US visa takes 291days in New Delhi, 581 days in Mexico City and 664 days in Nairobi. But what comfort is that?

I concede that a lot of reputational damage has been done to the Nigerian brand by many of our internet fraudsters, but that is no excuse for treating every Nigerian like the scum of the earth. While we work at cleaning up our act, those who think they are on top of the world at the moment will do well to clean up their ancient prejudices.

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It is fallacious to generally tag Nigerians as fraudsters. Logic 101 teaches that a syllogism constructed on a faulty foundation must crumble from the weight of its contradictions. It hurts to be singled out for the kind of unfair treatment Nigerians are being forced to go through by the US embassy. 

For this writer and many people in my generation, there is absolutely nothing existentially crucial about visiting America. In all my past visits I have never exceeded two weeks because that is how long it takes for me to start missing my beloved country. Nigeria may not be el dorado but I will dislocate the jaw that describes it as a shithole.

Christian Nwamba, popularly known as ‘Codebeast’ on social media, is a 25-year old Nigerian Software Developer, Author and Speaker at local and international Developer conferences.

He is widely published, with a reputation of being the number 3 most read Author across the world with 64 posts and 4.35 million page views. That is no mean feat.

He recently lamented how he cannot join his remote colleagues for team-bonding sessions as well as honour invitations to speak at conferences or even attend self-development global Developer conferences outside Nigeria. He applied for a US visa to speak at the Zeit Day conference with his friend Prosper. He armed himself with letters of invitation from the company, Zeit HQ and  a recommendation letter from his employer, Flutterwave. He was denied a visa again.

“The only crime I remember committing is being a Nigerian”, he laments.

While hoping that the Nigerian government will return the compliments of visa frustration to all those countries treating us like trash, let somebody drum it into the ears of the Americans:  “Visa na visa, na country dey different”.

  • Wole Olaoye is a Public Relations consultant and veteran journalist. He can be reached on wole.olaoye@gmail.com, Twitter: @wole_olaoye; Instagram: woleola2021

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