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Visa hassles and travel restrictions

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There’s hardly any country in the world that you will not find Nigerians, with most of them doing great things in different fields of human endeavour. In Houston, Texas, the energy capital of the world, a Nigerian is the leading liver transplant surgeon. What of Dr Akinwunmi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank and Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General of the World Trade Organisation? I wasn’t going to leave out Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations and Chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group.

These are few examples of our global ambassadors, lifting up our flag so high in the comity of nations and making us proud. I’m always excited to read about our brothers and sisters – both at home and abroad – who are making a difference in their respective careers.

Don’t worry about the likes of Ramon Abbas, popularly known as Hushpuppi, the notorious Instagram influencer and convicted felon; they are in the minority. Out of over 218 million Nigerians, how many are they? It is an inconsequential number although they portray the rest of us in bad light.

Not too long ago, the United Arab Emirate (UAE) banned citizens of 20 African countries from entering the country. In plain language, visas will not be issued to citizens of these countries. Nigeria is one of the 20 countries and to know that there are 54 countries in Africa, you begin to wonder why Nigeria should be on the list. Are we no longer the giant of Africa? Why is UAE thrashing “big brother”?

Nigerians have a soft spot for Dubai and travel there frequently for different reasons. I have travelled to Dubai a few times and it is indeed a beautiful city that is famous for its beaches, luxury shopping and impressive skyline. Dubai is the most populated of the seven emirates of UAE and it is where you will find the tallest building in the world amid a record of many other firsts.

Apart from those engaged in commercial activities, Nigerians who travel to Dubai go there for conferences, holidays or social events like weddings and birthday parties, while the rich invest in property. So, why deny Nigerians visa to UAE if we are frequent travellers on that route, spending tons of money in UAE and at the same time patronising Emirates Airline?

It is difficult to understand but my guess is that there are diplomatic issues that should be resolved between both countries. Besides the visa ban, Emirates Airline has also stopped flying into Nigeria over the airline’s inability to repatriate trapped funds. This is a problem affecting other airlines due to the shortage of forex but why is Emirate Airline acting differently?

When I asked a Nigerian who works in Dubai about his views on the visa ban, he said we must learn to abide by the laws of other countries. “UAE will not allow people to import their bad behaviour into their country,” he explained to me.

“When these bad guys get in unchecked, they will destroy the cities in UAE, especially Dubai, which the Emiratis built with their brains and serious sweat”, he added. I protested that Nigerians are generally good people and the few bad eggs in our midst should not represent the majority and define who we are. My friend and professional colleague made it clear that it is a choice we must make: come into UAE and behave well or stay away.

Abike Dabiri, Chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, had also expressed similar sentiments in the past and cautioned Nigerians in the diaspora to always be of good behaviour. I agree with her 100 per cent; wherever we go, we must ensure that we are always on the side of the law.

My view is that the visa hassles that Nigerians face has more to do with how we are perceived around the world due to several missed opportunities arising mainly from the failure of leadership. We are seen as very unserious people. It is the reason Nigerians are targeted at different ports of entry with our green passports.

The argument will always be that if we can fix Nigeria and make it work for all, not many people will travel and disappear into thin air. Consular officers believe strongly that most visa applicants will not return to the country once they board their outbound flights. Proof of return is therefore compulsory.

The same Dubai that Nigerians travel to at the drop of a hat is a city that grew out of the desert less than 30 years ago. The leaders there had a great vision and the result is Dubai which was turned into an attractive destination. What did we do with our oil boom revenue in the 70s and 80s?

Apart from Dubai, Nigerians also travel to the United Kingdom, USA, Germany, Canada, Turkey, South Africa and lately, Marrakech in Morocco. So when we are denied visas to Europe or North America, these countries are only sending a cryptic message to us decoded as follows: go and fix your country and make it work for you.

Nigeria is a great country that is blessed but we have been unable to rise to our full potential. There are Nigerians who truly desire to return home from their long sojourn in the diaspora but they are not encouraged by the deteriorating quality of life, insincere politicians, egregious corruption, insecurity and avoidable economic challenges.

What Covid-19 pandemic did was to restrict global travel for close to two years and it created new problems. It is now much easier to search for a needle in a haystack than obtaining visas to countries in Europe and North America.

When visas are unduly delayed or denied, it is the equivalent of a travel restriction. I will always concede that visa issuance is highly discretionary and it is the prerogative of consular officers to make a decision based on the merit of each application.

But this cannot explain why application for a visitor’s visa to Canada, for example, should last for nine months or more. I think the time has come for a separate visa processing plan to be introduced with a shorter timeline for frequent travellers to Canada. The records are there to facilitate a quicker turnaround time for this category of applicants.

There are parents – not only from Nigeria – who cannot visit their children who are schooling in Canada because of the long wait to have to endure for their visa applications to be reviewed. Covid-19 no doubt created its own issues resulting in the delays due to shortage of manpower. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada explained that it prioritised student visa applications over others but nine months is a long time to wait for a visa request to be granted.

I recall that when the Omicron variant of Covid-19 set in, Canada restricted travel from 10 African countries that included Nigeria, making it look like the most populous black nation in the world is always an attraction proposition for whatever reasons for such bans – whether by UAE or Canada.

In the case of the United States, you receive a multiple entry B1/B2 visa valid for only two years once your application ticks all the boxes but the US Mission should consider extending the validity to five or 10 years which clearly has its own advantages.

No doubt, the global public health crisis also affected visa applications to the USA. Appointments available online were two to three years ahead of the date of application which frustrated intending travellers. This situation prompted the rise of dubious and greedy agents in the black market for visa application dates which the United States Embassy condemned in several statements.

But I must commend the United States for re-introducing interview waiver (the drop-box method) to facilitate visa processing for those who qualify to enjoy the privilege; they include frequent travellers that do not over stay their visas.

In the past, we did not need a visa to travel to the United Kingdom because Nigeria is a Commonwealth country but that privilege was withdrawn a lot time ago because it was abused. However, the British High Commission is more flexible in granting visas when compared to the Schengen states that make visa applications nightmarish – even for frequent travellers who do not have plans to remain in their countries.

For reasons I still cannot understand, the South African High Commission gives Nigerians applying for visa a hard time. It would appear that the Rainbow Nation has forgotten the historic ties with Nigeria.

Even when you’re issued with their visitor’s visa, it is valid for only 30 days. The way they treat visa applications is entirely their prerogative but for most African countries, you get your visa on arrival for a fee. This does not apply to ECOWAS countries where the protocol covers free movement of persons in the sub-region.

It is evident that most visa applications by Nigerians are treated with suspicion because, in the opinion of the consular officers, the applicants are desperate to leave Nigeria. As a note of caution, applicants do not need to lie to obtain a visa because with every lie, whether in the verbal or written information provided, you damage your chances of being granted the visa. If you have a genuine reason to travel, there’s every likelihood that your visa request will be granted.

The biggest concerns of foreign missions are applicants who over stay their visitor’s visas and do not return home. I understand that these are issues they deal with on a regular basis as they treat the deluge of applications that can be overwhelming.

As Rotarians from the four districts in Nigeria prepare for the Rotary International Convention holding in Melbourne, Australia in May 2023, there will be an increase in the number of applications for the Australian visa. It will be a great opportunity for Rotarians who are issued visas to explore the country’s tropical beaches, lush rainforests, marine reserves and aboriginal culture.

For those who wish to emigrate, there’s no short cut; just submit your application and ensure that you meet all the requirements.

Now that there are labour shortages around the world, immigrants with specific skills will be in great demand and they may yet laugh last.

Braimah is a public relations strategist and publisher/editor-in-chief of Naija Times (https://ntm.ng)

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