“This led to the US cancelling the dropbox renewal process and increasing visa fees in order to make it hard for Nigerians to travel to the US.”
Tackling ‘illegal immigration’ is one of Donald Trump’s top campaign promises. As we go into the 2020 elections, Trump is matching rhetoric with actions in a bid to galvanize his supporters and demonstrate his tough anti-immigration credentials.
The Green Card or the diversity visa lottery system provides prospective immigrants from other countries with the opportunity to become permanent US citizens. In 2018, about 14,000 Nigerians were issued the US green card.
In 2019, that number came down to 6,705. With the new Trump visa restrictions, Nigerians will no longer be allowed to immigrate to the US.
That does not mean Nigerians cannot visit the US for non-immigration purposes like business, tourism, studies or work. But Trump also imposes far reaching restrictions on non-immigrant visa, making it far difficult for Nigerians to visit the US.
This led to the US cancelling the dropbox renewal process and increasing visa fees in order to make it hard for Nigerians to travel to the US.
Notwithstanding the official reasons for Trump actions, the real reason is because most Nigerians that immigrate to the US do so via illegal immigration than through the green card pathway.
The major way they do that is to apply for the normal visa (business, tourism and study) and refuse to come back even after the expiration of their visa duration.
In 2018, a total of 29,723 Nigerians overstayed in the US, representing 15% of total visas granted to Nigerians that year. Out of that, 719 left after their Visa expired while a whopping 29,004 stayed in America illegally.
Meaning, while the US officially allowed 14,000 Nigerians to immigrate legally through the green card system, another 29,004 illegally migrated into the US by abusing their non-immigrant visa privileges and refusing to leave after their visa had expired.
Since April last year, the Trump administration tasked the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department to come up with policies to curtail illegal immigration.
The travel restrictions was among the policy options being mulled at the time, among other options like asking visa applicants to deposit some money which will be given back only when they leave the US.
Now three questions came forward: why Nigeria, what are the likely implications and what can the Nigerian government do about it?
First is the shift in policy that saw the Trump administration working hard to discourage immigration (even legally) from African countries. Nigeria account for 25% of all US visa allocation to Africa. That’s why the Nigerian ban is seeing as Africa ban (3 more African countries are on the list).
Trump lamented early on that he won’t tolerate immigration from shithole (African) countries, preferring instead, in his own words, immigrants from Norway and Sweden (who ironically have better standard and quality of life than the US and therefore have no reason to immigrate).
This explains why there is no similar actions against other countries (Canada, Mexico, Brazil and even the UK) with larger or similar number of visa overstay than Nigeria.
Nigerian government had the chance to respond to this in April 2019 when the proposed actions against countries like Nigeria were first reported.
Just like in every other thing, our foreign policy is largely reactive rather than proactive. America is a land of lobbies. Our large population, African biggest economy status and the large number of Nigerians in the US do not translate into any diplomatic clout. Even the Congressional Nigeria & Black caucuses are merely shadows of their former selves.
The US move no doubt has implications on Nigerians traveling to other countries especially EU and other western countries that share similar security interests and requirements with the US.
Citing security concerns is merely a convenient excuse for Trump to implement his racist anti-Africa immigration policies and score cheap political points with his rightwing base. Because security cooperation with the US is still strong in areas of counterterrorism, money laundering and illicit crime.
Nigeria has the options to either engage, reciprocate or wait and allow the Trump regime to serve its term (in 2020 or 2024 if reelected).
All the three options seem bad for Nigeria. The fact that Nigeria was listed in the ban is humiliating enough. That’s why the best time to act was before the list was announced.
Nigeria’s best response is for our leaders to ask themselves what factors are making Nigerians to immigrate and work towards addressing those factors. The way a country treats its own people is directly proportional to how its people will be treated by a different country.
In the 70s and 80s, a Nigerian can walk into the US embassy and process a US Visa on the spot, same way you can walk into a bank and perform a transaction today.
Now, one has to go through a number of humiliating procedures. That’s because we have failed to make available at home that which we go to seek for abroad.
By Ahmed Musa Hussaini