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The Nigeria-US visa fee complications

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U.S. Visa Photo: Getty Images

It is disconcerting that it took a slam of punitive retaliation by the United States on Nigerians applying for US entry visas for the government of Nigeria to at last look into the complaints of the United States and indeed the international community over the difficulties including high visa fees and extortions involved in the acquisition of a Nigerian visa.

For a government that continues to make an open call for foreign direct investments into its economy, it is curiously contradictory to have maintained such a difficult and expensive set of requirements for entry into the country.

The US had for almost two years complained officially to the Nigerian government about the exorbitant charges that its citizens had been compelled to pay for a Nigerian entry visa. This newspaper had reported that “United States citizens pay as much as $270 for a single-entry visa. They are also charged $160 for consular services, another $100 for ‘administration’ and $10 for ‘processing.’” More than eighteen months after, however, the Nigerian government did not respond to the US complaint.

According to another report, “the committee set up to look into the US complaints concluded its assignment months ago, but powerful individuals with vested interests constrained officials from implementing the recommendations until the US government embarrassed the federal government with the reciprocity visa charges.” 

The reciprocity visa charges mean that, in addition to the standard non-refundable visa application fees, Nigerians seeking entry into the United States will now have to pay an extra minimum of $80 upon approval of their visas (extra payment amount depending on visa type, and may rise to as high as $303).

The Nigerian government just announced the approval of a reduction in the visa fees payable by US citizens. But, owing perhaps to the now well-known policy implementation gaps that lead to sustenance of so many hidden charges within many Nigerian service systems, the American government has maintained that until its embassy receives, “official diplomatic communication regarding a new fee schedule for Americans seeking Nigerian visas…and confirmation of implementation, the reciprocity fees for approved visas…will remain in place.”

A number of important lessons may be gleaned from this recent exchange between Nigeria and the United States over the visa application and issuance fees. The first, a rather jarring point of fact, is that if Nigerians have for a long time perceived their government, for whatever reasons, as tardy in dealing with the country’s domestic challenges and issues, that government appears now to have proven itself to be no less tardy abroad and, like the lumbering giant that it is, slothful in its diplomatic dealings with the other nations of the world.

The second lesson that may be drawn from the visa fee imbroglio is one of perspective, disturbing particularly with regard to the barrage of negative publicity that the country has recently attracted.

At a time when a sizeable number of its citizenry appears to be working very hard to stamp out a taint of fraudulence on the identity of the whole nation, it is depressing that the Nigerian government cannot be the shining light. Through an enforced policy of honesty and efficiency in its international affairs, the country can mitigate the nation’s perception in the eyes of the world as a hub of fraud and administrative ineptitude. For it is one thing, bad enough, for citizens to misbehave but nothing drags the name of a nation through mud and scum, more than when its government cannot be seen to be doing better than its erring citizens. What then is the purpose of government?

All is not lost, however. The Nigerian government may still redeem itself, and free the country’s image alongside its very own from the devastation of such a terrible outing that its visa ‘policies’ has been. Beyond the hurried reduction of visa application fees, what the federal government needs to do is, first, to fashion policy of internal assessment of itself and a visa regime that actually works because it is the product of a thought and stocktaking process. Then there is the need for enforcement, for which we recommend that an oversight office, should be created in the presidency to ensure that cogent and significant complaints are dealt with at the highest levels of authority. Public relations for the country is, in the end, not outside the responsibilities of the presidency.

Nigerians are also encouraged to stay back home more and plow their fields to make their own country better and more desirable. As much as this may sound like a broken record to the horde of people seeking ‘greener pastures’ abroad, building the nation of our dreams will always require some sacrifice and perseverance, and national self-reliance still remains the key to the country’s total emancipation from shackles of imperialism.

Finally, perhaps the federal government will have more time and energy at its disposal to deal with immigration and foreign affairs issues, only if it can free itself from the mundane, properly regional and state concerns that it now riddles itself with. Proper federalism is still part of the solution to this and many other problems that any overburdened central government can face at this time that social forces of globalization put more pressure on leaders.

 


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