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Nigerians top list of study visas to U.S., UK

By Adeyemi Adepetun (Assistant Editor, ComTech) and Gloria Nwafor
29 August 2022   |   4:20 am
Fear has gripped the private sector, especially the services and technology space, following mass resignation of skilled workforce to seek greener pastures abroad.

• Private sector grapples with talent retention over remote work, relocation
• 65,929 Nigerians on approved study visa in UK as of June
• U.S. issues 6,915 non-immigrant visas to Nigerians in June
• Microsoft opens employment opportunities for offices abroad
• Insecurity, economic slowdown, low remuneration intensify brain drain
• Nigeria heading to a gridlock, experts warn

Fear has gripped the private sector, especially the services and technology space, following mass resignation of skilled workforce to seek greener pastures abroad.

Findings by The Guardian showed that software, hardware engineers, system integrators, digital marketers, accountants and auditors are dumping high-paying employment in banking, financial technology, education, insurance, manufacturing and teaching as economic opportunities shrink amid rising insecurity.

There is another category of people leaving the country through the education route, driven by lingering industrial action in Nigeria’s universities. Majority of these people head to the United Kingdom and Canada.

The Guardian checks also suggest that most of those who leave the country via the study route, especially those seeking second degrees, only use the pursuit of knowledge as a leeway, as they do not intend to return on completion of their programmes.

As a confirmation of this migration, the United Kingdom immigration statistics as at June 2022, revealed that there were 486,868 sponsored study visas granted (to both main applicants and their dependants), 71 per cent (202,147) more than 2019.

Of the study visas issued by the UK, Nigerian nationals saw the largest relative increase in sponsored study grants compared with 2019, increasing by 57,545 (+686 per cent) to a record high of 65,929, making them the third largest nationality group.

Similarly, out of 722,962 non-immigrant visas issued by the United States in June, Nigerians got 6,915 with B1/B2 category recording the highest at 5,061. Other categories of visas issued include G2, J1, C1/D, A1, K2, H3 and P4.

This migration figure could be compounded if statistics from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is to be considered. USCIS revealed that 40,000 immigrant visas are set-aside yearly for skilled workers, who seek to immigrate based on their job skills.

Selected applicants are allowed to relocate to the U.S. with their spouses and children. The U.S. said 65,000 immigrant visa allotments remained unused at the end of 2021, and as such, it has taken steps to avoid a repeat.

The five categories eligible for the visa include persons of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics and “members of the professions holding advanced degrees.” Others are special immigrants and businessmen/entrepreneurs, who can “invest $1.8 million or $900,000” in the U.S.

“An unusually high number of employment-based immigrant visa numbers were available in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021,” the notice reads.
Beyond the desire to migrate to other countries, findings showed opportunities in remote work, especially with many undertaking dollar-denominated projects and work, is equally creating concerns for talent retention by local firms that are unable to match the foreign exchange earnings of many talent hunters. This phenomenon became pronounced with the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown that ensued.

The trend poses an enormous challenge to local companies, which are now struggling to replace ‘fleeing’ talents. Companies now conduct interviews to replace good hands monthly, sources disclose to The Guardian.

Unlike in the past when unemployed and individuals in low-paying jobs were those eager to leave, multinational firms operating in the country are also trapped in the quagmire.

The reason for leaving the country is apparent: Currently, Nigeria is battling rising unemployment estimated at 33.3 per cent; rising insecurity, manifesting as banditry and hostage-taking, has risen to a new height, while inflation is taking a serious toll on the real incomes of households.

With the situation not abating, findings showed that Nigerians, especially within the age bracket of 25 and 45, whose services are critical to the information and technology operations of some leading organisations, especially banks, manufacturing firms, Fintechs and insurance companies, are exploring offshore jobs abroad, forcing them to leave the country in droves.

Chief Information Officer of one of the leading first-generation banks, who preferred anonymity, told The Guardian that within the first-half of the year, about 750 software engineers resigned their appointments from some of the leading financial institutions in the country to pick what they described as mouthwatering offers from overseas companies. The popular destinations are Canada, the UK, Ireland, Germany and the United States.

Painfully, it was also gathered that the migration figure could triple between September and December as companies abroad continue to dangle irresistible offers.

Overseas companies baiting Nigerians with great jobs are Microsoft, Google, Oracle, usmlelab.com, Amcor Plc, Anglo American Plc, Antofagasta Plc, Associated British Foods Plc, AstraZeneca Plc and British American Tobacco Plc. Others are Compass Group Plc, Computacenter Plc, HSBC Holdings Plc and Intel Corporation.

Microsoft, recently, announced employment opportunities for fresh graduates from Nigerian universities and other African countries. Specifically, the company is looking for software engineers from across Africa to join its U.S. and Canadian teams.

Announcing this via a Twitter post, Microsoft said the potential candidates must be open to relocating to either the U.S. or Canada. To be qualified for the position, Microsoft said such a person must be “pursuing or recently completed bachelor’s or master’s degree in engineering, computer science or related field.”

The Guardian gathered that the Microsoft openings have seen thousands of fresh graduates applying. Even those who graduated about four and five years earlier submitted applications.

Indeed, this mass resignation from local firms is beginning to take its toll on some organisations, including banks.  Earlier in the year, a report had it that the mass resignation of software engineers in banks obstructed the seamless operation of electronic and mobile banking systems.

Speaking on this challenge, a telecom expert, Kehinde Aluko, said the brain drain in Nigeria is setting the country up for a disaster, adding that continuously losing a huge part of the skilled workforce is no doubt a recipe for disaster.

According to him, the reasons for Nigeria’s alarming brain drain is not hard to diagnose, as poor infrastructure, crippling economy, devaluation of the naira, insecurity, high unemployment rate, poor education, human rights violation, among others, as very glaring reasons why both the young and old are moving out of the country in droves.

Aluko said the implication is the decline in the country’s economic growth. He said it would lead to a reduction in the quality of service, as the absence of skilled workers would create a gap, which only unqualified individuals are going to fill.

The Marketing Manager, Eskimi Africa, an AdTech platform that helps brands and agencies to conduct programmatic advertising campaigns, Oluwatobi Adekunle, said the attraction abroad remains very huge.

Adekunle lamented the growing dearth of digital skills in Nigeria, stressing, “lots of people are running away from the country. These are skills that are exiting Nigeria at the moment. Currently, there is a platform that tries to aggregate them. I receive CVs from companies to recruit for them. The skills are scarce these days, especially in digital marketing. These skills are exiting the country today and we need to refill lots of roles today. We just must encourage ourselves.”

According to him, the attraction is that everybody wants to earn dollars, live in an environment that is comfortable for them to grow and know that the future is guaranteed, which according to him, is missing here.

“For example, a digital marketer in Nigeria at a professional level, who is at the peak of his career, may be earning N800,000, but outside the country, you can earn between $4,500 and $5,000 a month. Convert that to naira and you become a ‘big boy’. It is a lot of money. The fact that you can earn a dollar, grow your career among others is enough attraction for anybody to leave this country.”

The Founder, Jidaw Systems and Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Policy Advisor, Jide Awe, noted that there is a global tech talent/skills shortage and companies in Nigeria are feeling the brunt.

Awe said the developed economies, in the west, depend on ICT to power their economies, for continued competitiveness and productivity, adding that the global tech industry grows at a phenomenal pace, and the number of available tech positions vastly outnumbers the available talents.

He said the shortage of tech talent is not a new problem but worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic-triggered tech adoption. Referring to Canada, the UK and U.S., the Jidaw founder said demand is huge in these countries that even engage in tech talent wars to attract the best talent from all over the world.

He explained that these countries could use impressive wages, better infrastructure and working conditions as well as their living environments to attract tech talent from Nigeria.

“Because it is a pressing need and priority for them, many of these countries adopt special visa programs, global talent schemes to source international tech talent for their internal tech skills shortage. ICT skills are in high demand. For technology professionals that relocate, it’s about creating a better future for themselves and their families. Sometimes, the perspective is also that the new environment is an advanced one that is safer and more stable for growth and other quality of life issues,” he added.

Considering that this trend is predictable, Awe submitted that as a nation, Nigeria should have done more to prioritise human capital development in ICT – skills development, career development, workforce development, among others.

To the Chairman, Mobile Software Solution, Chris Uwaje, the missing link responsible for the country’s latency to attain digital prominence is primarily due to the lack of understanding of the enormity of the challenges, opportunities and benefits of digital transformation and the negligence of the role of IT/ICT professionals.

He said the ultimate goal of digital transformation is to create and enable digital citizenship, saying that today, nations, governments, tech corporate businesses, and indeed all organisations in the digital economy, have come to realise that digital skills are a primary and critical resource for global competitiveness, success and sustainable development.

On the dangers of this trend, the Mobile Software Solution boss said there are many, but the most critical include rendering the monumental Investments in the national IT/ICT ecosystem useless, obsolete and quantum reinvestment in mitigating digital disaster recovery processes – under the control of foreign knowhow with protected Source code/IT.

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