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Much ado about Buhari’s new visa policy 

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The announcement of the Visa on Arrival policy last December by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Aswan Forum in Egypt was greeted with an avalanche of condemnation from some quarters, largely due to misconceptions about how it would operate, perhaps mischief. Chief among the charges against it was that it was a subliminal plot to import more killers into the country under official cover, and that foreigners would come to take available job opportunities meant for Nigerians.

But, with the official public presentation and launched of the new Nigerian Visa Policy (NVP) 2020 by President Mohammad Buhari last Tuesday at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Nigeria now has 79 different classes of visas for foreigners wishing to come into the country for any sort of business.

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The new structure comes with an introduction of three broad categories, including the Short Visit Visas, Temporary Residence Visas and the Permanent Residence Visas. Under the Short Visit Visas, there are 28 classes. Temporary Residence Visas has 36 classes while there are 15 classes under the Permanent Residence Visas.

The Short Visit Visa class covers individuals such as non-accredited diplomats, people on transit travellers without visas, single and multiple entries visas for business, tourism, visiting journalists, clerics, medical, sports, among others. Covered under Temporary Residence Visas are temporary work permit, accredited diplomats, spouse/dependents of accredited diplomats, employment (expatriate), employment (NGOs), employment (clerics), students, academic exchange programme, among others. The Permanent Residence Visas category makes allowance for spouses of Nigerian citizens, Nigerians by birth who renounced Nigerian citizenship visas, investors visas, among others.

The government’s rationale for reforming the visa policy is to strengthen Nigeria’s position as a key economy in Africa by attracting more Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) which it believes will in turn provide jobs for the people and lift Nigeria’s teeming population out of poverty in line with Buhari’s vision to take 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years. It comes on the heel of Nigeria signing of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCTA), a treaty seeking to establish a continent-wide marketplace with increased trade and freer movement among its major economic powers.

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Buhari’s official launch of Nigeria Visa Policy (NVP) 2020 has signposted some salient points worthy of note: These includes among others, that a greater part of 2019 was devoted to conceiving and enunciating the policy, with retreats, conferences and engagements with stakeholders by the Nigeria Immigration Service. These held in August, October, and December, in Lagos, Benin, and Abuja, respectively. Analysts are of the consensus that the decision by the NIS’s officials was therefore not a hasty one.

At the public presentation in Abuja, Buhari said the Visa Policy 2020 is designed and intended to attract innovation, specialized skills and knowledge from abroad to complement local capacity.

According to Buhari, “The implementation of Nigeria Visa Policy 2020 will support the attainment of a globally competitive economy for Nigeria by building on the efforts of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council.’’

Besides, Buhari said the policy would improve the business environment, attract Foreign Direct Investment and boost tourism without compromising national security.

“Earlier in the course of this administration, we introduced the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (2017-2020) with one of the objectives being to minimise bottlenecks, which impede innovation and market-based solutions for building an inclusive economy. Nigeria Visa Policy 2020 is intended to attract innovation, specialized skills and knowledge from abroad to complement locally available ones.”

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The policy would therefore provide an avenue to achieve African integration by the introduction of visas on arrival for short visits to Nigeria for holders of passports of African Union countries.Officials explained that the NVP 2020 is specifically a global visa system, with biometrics linked to online applications for each applicant, greatly minimising chances of criminals beating the system. This is because biometrics would be conducted at port of entry.

The Visa on Arrival to be issued only at airports, not at land borders, there are three categories of visas: short visit, temporary, and permanent residence. From the previous six, there are now 79 classes of visa. There is Visa for Diaspora Nigerians by birth, with dual citizenship, Visa on Arrival only for short visits, and there is little chance that visitors will come in to take jobs, which should have been for Nigerians.

The system is automated. No cash transaction; so, the chances of corruption are reduced. NVP is part of a wider reform of ‘NIS Border Strategy, 2019-2023,’ as it holds immense economic benefits for the country. 

The Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola, in his remarks at the launch said the visa policy took into consideration specific needs of foreigners who would want to visit the country, without compromising the security of the country. The minister said the policy had followed a process that considered the security, economy, and territorial integrity of the country, and would only be issued after due diligence with other security components of the country.

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“Especially, the new visa policy will be helpful to diaspora Nigerians by birth who can now use other passports to visit the country, because some countries do not allow dual citizenship,’’ he added.

In a technical presentation, the Comptroller General of Nigeria Immigrations Service (NIS), Mr. Muhammad Babandede, said the service had already put in place a technological hub called the Migrants Information and Data Analysis (MIDAS) to ensure strict compliance with the conditions for the issuance of the visa. Babandede assured that issues of corruption or bribery would be controlled by the automated system while allaying fears of possible infiltration of the economy by criminals and terrorists.

He said the 79 categories in the new policy, includes health, education, tourism among others with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Interpol which also made inputs into the system, and would be carried along in the processing before approvals.

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The NIS boss also addressed various concerns such as potential for corruption and the possibility of Nigeria being overwhelmed by migrants. He assured that issues of corruption or bribery would be controlled by the automated system.

“On the complaints about the number of foreigners in Nigeria, I want you to consider the number of Nigerians outside also,” he said. “Nigeria must export its labour in the next decade. We are going to be the most populous nation in the world. If you know the number of Nigerians in other ECOWAS countries and the business they control, you will not develop hatred for migrants. As long as they live legally and do their jobs correctly, we should consider them as there are Nigerians elsewhere. It is important for us to know this.”The government is confident that the new visa policy would take Nigeria higher up in the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) annual African Visa Openness Report and provide further boost for the Nigerian economy.

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FDIMuhammadu Buhari‎
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