New rules for US visa

Last week, the United States government suspended interview waivers for visa renewals, otherwise known as the dropbox process, in Nigeria indefinitely. Previously, the waiver allowed Nigerians who were regular visitors to the United States to renew their visas by submitting their passports and supporting documents for review without going through in-person interviews each time. They only needed to prove that they had previously received a two-year visa. But in the statement announcing the new decision, the US Mission explained that it would no longer accept visa applications by mail in the country. According to the statement, “Those who have already submitted their passports via Dropbox to DHL for processing either at the US Embassy in Abuja or the Consulate General in Lagos, will not be impacted by this change. All applicants in Nigeria seeking a nonimmigrant visa to the United States must apply online, and will be required to appear in-person at the US Embassy in Abuja or US Consulate General in Lagos to submit their application for review. Applicants must appear at the location they specified when applying for the visa renewal. Processing of diplomatic and official (A, G, and NATO class) visa applications will continue unchanged. Mission Nigeria’s processing procedures are regularly reviewed in order to assess our ability to quickly, efficiently, and securely process visa applications.”

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The Mission added that it was taking this step to provide more efficient customer service and promote legitimate travel and would therefore continue to facilitate applications by established travellers to the best of its ability. However, with the new policy, there is a high probability of a reduction in the number of non-immigrant visas issued to Nigerians. The US President Donald Trump’s policy of extreme vetting is fairly well known, and there can be no doubting the fact that in-person interviews will mean a much more laborious process of visa approval. In any case, in recent times, there were already reports of a much delayed process of approval even with the dropbox policy. In many cases, dropbox applications were reportedly returned unapproved and requests issued to applicants to make themselves available for in-person interviews.

To all intents and purposes, there is nothing wrong with the new policy informed by the refusal of nationals of certain countries to honour the terms of their visa approvals. The Trump administration’s policy is to review visa applications for any country with up to 10 per cent stay back rate. The strategies outlined by the administration include reducing visa validity periods for citizens of the offending countries, making visa issuance difficult for them or, as a last measure, refusing to grant them visas at all. Against the threshold of 10 per cent stay back rate,  in 2017-2018, the stay back rate for Nigerians was actually 15.4 per cent. What this simply means is that Nigerians are leaving the country with no intention of coming back. There is therefore a paradox in the current situation: you cannot blame the US government for seeking to enforce its rules, but neither can you fail to appreciate, even if you cannot justify, why Nigerians are seeking any available means to exit the country currently ranked as the global headquarters of poverty.

Instructively, the review of the dropbox policy shows that unlike Nigeria, the United State is a society that makes evidence-based decisions. The Nigerian government must therefore strive to learn how a society is supposed to operate in the first place, and what governance is all about. On current evidence, intellectually impoverished individuals occupy the seats of power and Nigeria cannot advance beyond its present state in this situation. Indeed, while it is reprehensible for Nigerians or indeed any other groups of people to stay in the United States or any other country beyond the time indicated in their visas, there is also the overarching question of human nature and the quest for survival that the Nigerian government must begin to ponder. If Nigerians are required to return home, what are they coming back to meet? A country where the rule of law is trampled upon at will and where political dissent is fast becoming a treasonable offence; a country where those in power arrogate to themselves the values of the country and lead ostentatious lives at the expense of the people on whose behalf their are supposed to be working?

Sadly, innocent travellers will suffer under the new policy of visa application, but that is part of the price the country must pay for putting misfits in high places. And for those pointing out that the ideal thing is reciprocity in international relations, what precisely does Nigeria have to retaliate with? The onus is on the Nigerian government to put its house in order, assuming that it is in fact well apprised of the appalling conditions in which Nigerians have remained trapped for a long time.