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Understanding the U.S. visa and travel ban

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Most people are still surprised by a report the other day that the Donald Trump administration has classified Nigeria among a few countries that would no longer have an immigration visa to the United States.

The latest visa ban, which is one of President Trump’s signature policies, includes five other countries including Nigeria. According to the Department of Homeland Security, immigrants from Mynmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan Tanzania, Sudan, and Nigeria will be banned from the U.S. Accordingly, citizens will no longer be able to apply for the “diversity visas,” known as the green card lottery too.

The Trump administration has defended the expanded travel ban, saying that it is important for national security and that some of these countries have simply not met U.S. security standards. 

Nigerians have reacted with shock, anger, and disbelief to the inclusion of the country, easily Africa’s most populous and largest economy. The anger is not necessarily because of the visa ban but for the fact that Nigeria, Africa’s richest and most populous country, has deteriorated to such a low level that she is now lumped with “pariah states” such as Myanmar and Eritrea.

Meanwhile, the fact that the ban is connected to insecurity in Nigeria leaves no one in doubt about the justification for the sanctions. The toxic atmosphere in the country as a result of insecurity, exacerbated by various vicious terror gangs has been terrifying. 

The menace of Boko Haram insurgents, Fulani herdsmen, kidnappers, armed robbers and cultists, manifesting in daily abductions, killings, torture, and general insecurity, have left Nigerians traumatised. Consequently, living in Nigeria or travelling from one place to the other is now a frightening experience. But most citizens need to understand that it is not the state of insecurity that has triggered this response but apparent failure of the government to manage the situation. 

Specifically, the United States government could not understand Nigeria’s failure to manage its citizens’ identity in a way that intelligence and security agencies can track business partners and criminal suspects even within the country. What is worse, Nigeria’s government just introduced a curious visa policy that would enable all sorts of Africans to flood Nigeria by obtaining a visa at entry points. Most of the visiting Africans are most likely to obtain Nigerian passports with ease and these strange Nigerians can thereafter travel to the United States to apply for a diversity visa as Nigerians as the U.S. intelligence service seems to have suspected.

Specifically, it is on that note that most people are persuaded that President Trump has the right to protect his country. The onus is on the Nigerian leader to wake up and do the needful on security to restore confidence that Nigeria is not only safe, but other immigrants in the country can be easily identified. 

In the same vein, the Trump administration’s travel restriction too on pregnant women coming into the United States is in a bid to curb the number of foreigners gaining American citizenship by birth.

It is a common practice and it is not new that some women from, not only Nigeria but Russia and China, Latin America, among others, travel to the United States to give birth to their babies to gain automatic citizenship. The U.S. has been cracking down on this and other immigration rules since assuming office. 

According to the State Department guidance, visa applicants deemed by consular officers to be coming to the U.S. primarily to give birth will now be treated like other foreigners coming to the U.S. for medical treatment. The applicants will have to prove they are coming for medical treatment and they have the money to pay for it. 

So many prominent Nigerians including a former vice president have urged the United States to reconsider its visa restriction against Nigeria, saying such a measure is inconsistent with both countries’ long-standing bilateral relations.

Besides, some civil society organisations have also sent petitions to the United States to revoke the ban, saying it will affect a lot of families and other values.

According to a group, “with this new travel ban in effect from February 21, 2020… U.S. citizens looking to bring over children, parents or siblings will no longer be able to do so. Also, partners or spouses of American citizens will no longer be able to immigrate to the U.S.”

But there have been clarifications as the U.S. authorities said Nigeria was added to the list, which includes repressive states like Eritrea and Myanmar, because the Buhari administration had failed to share information critical to fighting terrorism and other crimes.

It is gratifying that Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has set up a committee to “study and address” the recent U.S. immigration visa ban on Nigerians. The committee chaired by the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, will work with the United States Government, INTERPOL and other stakeholders to ensure that all updates are addressed.

Meanwhile, Buhari has also set up another committee on the deteriorating security situation in the country. The committee will periodically review the security situation in Nigeria. 

We should not get the visa ban and ban on pregnant women giving birth in America twisted. It is important to let Nigerians know that it is not a big deal going to America. People can survive here. There is no need for running away from the prevailing condition in Nigeria. Sometimes, it is an inferiority complex that lures people to America, even when they are aware that there are some harsh immigration and work policies in the place.

However, this is a time for our government at all levels to strive to make the home front comfortable so that people will have no reason to seek to migrate. Before everything began to go wrong in this same country, citizens who went abroad to study quickly returned home to take up good-paying jobs. We should strive to restore the glorious past.

In terms of birth tourism, the U.S. government, no doubt, is more worried about Chinese and Latinas than Nigerians and Africans. Africans are in a small minority and Nigerians who can afford birth in America will no doubt be allowed to go even without an eye on American birth certificate and citizenship. 

In the main, authorities in Nigeria should ensure that the issue of identity management is reformed as soon as possible. This newspaper has repeatedly appealed to the authorities concerned to adopt an integrated approach to this identity policy as there are too many registration sources that have become unreliable to the international community. In this age of forensic facilities, biometrics, and other reliable data management mechanisms, it should not be ticklish to address the identity management challenges that have made Nigeria be (un)equally yoked with Mynmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Tanzania, and Sudan. This indeed is a reproach that should be removed immediately. 


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