Visa Restrictions to Nigerians unacceptable - FG Protests

Issues and information related to travel to and from Nigeria.

Visa Restrictions to Nigerians unacceptable - FG Protests

Postby Richard Akindele » Fri Jul 07, 2006 12:28 pm

The Federal Government yesterday officially protested the hardship Nigerian travellers face in securing travelling visas.
Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said this yesterday in Abuja, while meeting with Heads of Foreign Missions, Ambassadors and the Diplomatic Corps.

Okonjo-Iweala said migrations could be both constructive and harmful to relations between countries and peoples, adding that Nigeria and represented foreign missions should be able to manage consular issues, especially as it relates to migration and visas, in mutually beneficial way.

According to her, “to be specific about aspects of these relations, Nigeria appreciates the fact that the foreign missions grant visas to a great number of Nigerians. However, I view with great concern, difficulties put in the way of many bonafide Nigerian travellers, who are daily denied visas for reasons which are unclear and sometimes quite unsatisfactory.�

She expressed optimism that “there is room for more discussions on these matters, in the interest of promoting mutual understanding and relations between our governments and peoples. For example, we should endeavour to work positively towards the removal of all unnecessary visa restrictions which hinder legitimate travels by our nationals.�

According to her, she was also aware of some difficulties being experienced by some members of the diplomatic community, regarding visas and introduction of new resident permit policy.
She assured that the Ministry and the Immigration Department were working assiduously to find permanent solution to the problem.
She said Nigeria values her relations with the international community, adding that as a lead player in Africa, the country would continue to strive to harness Africa’s abundant resources and potentials towards achieving growth and development.
“However, the continent’s development continues to be impaired by internecine conflicts and needless civil wars. Nigeria has always believed that without peace, security and stability, the quest for development will remain a dream.�

The Minister said her tenure would retain focus on ensuring that the peace agreement reached recently in Abuja on Darfur is implemented and sustained. In conjunction with stakeholders, within Africa and beyond, we will keep an eye on the situation in the Congo DRC� she assured.

Okonjo-Iweala also said she’d focus on strengthening bilateral and multi lateral economic and trade cooperation. “We will pay attention to exploring how, through diplomacy, the goals of the Millennium Development Goals, for Nigeria, can be best realised.�

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Visa Policies - Tackling Foreign Missions

Postby Richard Akindele » Sat Jul 29, 2006 2:26 am

Issuance of visa to Nigerians has long been a thorny issue especially given the increasing number of people migrating for various reasons and the way they are treated with contempt. That was why Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala recently promised there will be a change in visa policies. In this report, Paul Ohia revisits the tale of woes, the success stories and the way forward.

Day in day out, Nigerians are buffetted with stories of travellers being denied visas for various reasons. It is against this background that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala recently assured Nigerians that the trend would change.

Speaking a few days after her appointment in the foreign ministry, Okonjo-Iweala said she would press for a review of the processes for obtaining the visa of other countries to check the growing cases of Nigerian applicants being treated with contempt by some embassies and high commissions.

Prior to her statement, many complainants argued that Nigerians going for genuine business or for studies were often denied visa while those who have no good reason to travel perfected ways of deceiving the visa officers and once the result of this poor decision starts yielding fruits in terms of crimes perpetrated by those issued visa, other genuine seekers receive ugly treatment melted out by the visa officers.

In some cases, Nigerians have been found wanting. Desperation to escape poverty has led to attempts to travel with forged documents. In other cases, genuine applicants are wrongly turned down and embassy officials have instead been the culprits.

Scandals

Some cases of denials have been linked to scandals that have more to do with the officers at the embassies than Nigerian travelers. Recently, Switzerland was battling with different levels of visa scandals in Nigeria and other countries. Allegations ranging from sex-for-visas scandal to money laundering continued rocking Swiss diplomatic posts until advertisements were placed by the government in the Swiss press searching for a visa ombudsman to control visa practices in Swiss consular departments.

Investigations at the United Kingdom (UK) immigration office was quite revealing. British Members of Parliament (MPs) who came to Nigeria to research their reports saw fake British electricity bills purchased by would-be migrants at street markets and submitted to the British authorities as evidence to support visa applications.

There were also allegations that touts blocked the telephone lines issued by the British High Commission for visa seekers to schedule appointments. This was appropriately replaced with courier service booking by the Director of visa services Chris Dix and the improvement has been remarkable.

Backlash of issuing visas to wrong people

How is the conduct of Nigerians that eventually get visas to foreign countries? Early this week, Middle District of Tennessee announced the arrest of Akanonu Fabian Mgbobila, 56 a native of Nigeria on a federal firearms violation. Mgbobila appeared before US Magistrate Judge Joe Brown for violating Title 18 of the US Code, Section 922(g)(5)(B)- unlawful possession of a firearm by a non-immigrant alien. Mgbobila does possess a valid visitor visa.

Under US federal law non-immigrant aliens are prohibited from possessing firearms and ammunition except for certain limited circumstances specified by statute. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in federal prison, up to a $250,000 fine and a period of supervised release. There is no parole in the federal prison system.

According to information contained in a criminal complaint outlining the charge, Mgbobila arrived by bus from Boston to Nashville on July 19, 2006. Mgbobila negotiated the purchase of 30 firearms from an undercover law enforcement agent for $150 each, to be paid the following morning. After the negotiations, the undercover agent and Mgbobila wrapped and packaged the firearms. After the firearms were wrapped and packaged, Mgbobila was arrested by ATF without incident. Stories such as these paint Nigeria in bad light and backfires on genuine applicants.

Success stories

But it has not been tales of woes. Many Nigerian abroad have contributed to the progress of the countries they found themselves against all odd. For instance As an immigrant new to the United States, Olawale Agboola, 35, faced several instances of discrimination.

While working as a substitute teacher for Indianapolis Public Schools, Agboola was told by a fellow teacher that he could not use a staff phone.

While a student at the University of Indianapolis, he was ignored by a professor when he complained that a fellow student was slandering him.

Despite such incidents, Agboola retains a positive outlook. "It is all about attitude," he said. "I understand that I am a stranger here and that I have a lot of differences. Some people might not like me when they see me, or maybe they do not like my accent. So I put up a good attitude.

"I do not take offense when another citizen might say something because of discrimination."

Agboola, first travelled to the United States in 1997. Since then, he has carved a niche for himself in education and is a special education teacher at Howe Academy. His wife, Oyinola, 33, and his daughter, Feintola, six, and son, Anibaba are US citizens.

Agboola and his family left Nigeria after he won a green card in the Diversity Lottery Program, or DV Lottery.

Response from the embassies

United States Embassy in Nigeria recently outlined some factors that determine issuance of visa to Nigerians, explaining that it does not discriminate on the status of Nigerian citizens seeking to travel to America.

The embassy also dismissed perceptions that some applicants were being denied visas because they had delivered or wanted to deliver children in the United States.

Counsellor for Consular Affairs of the US Embassy, Mr. Alan Latimer, who spoke for the embassy stressed that "this perception about the US process of visa issuance is unfounded and incorrect.

According to him, the US mission does not discriminate against any sect, race, gender and ethnicity before issuing visas to qualified applicants from Nigeria.

His words: "It is the function of US mission in Nigeria to issue visas to visiting travellers. We do not allow cultural, racial and ethnic differences to enter into the process, but strictly rely on law and procedure.

"We consider employment status, family relationship, economic and financial background of each applicants before visas are issued.

To confirm this depends on the extent to which the can convince us. So there is no indication of discrimination as claimed," he said.

Consul General, Mr. Brian Brown added that there was no US Consulate policy stating that a certain class of people should be denied visas.

He said the assertion was wrong and incorrect, but the applicants in most cases failed to complete their visa application with due care and accuracy.

Brown maintained that: "The policy of the United States Mission in Nigeria is to issue visas for business or pleasure to qualified Nigerians. This does not mean that everyone who applies for a visa is entitled to one.

"All the application for visitor visas to the US are determined based on the qualifications of the individual applicant. Under US immigration law, applicant is presumed to be an intending immigrant, and thus, not eligible for non-immigrant visa," he stated.

He reiterated that the act is so important to the process of visa issuance because it recognises the fact that "every applicant shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he/she establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officers at the time of application for a visa, and the immigration officer, at the time of application for admission, that he/she is not entitled to a non-immigrant status."

He said the law placed the proof of the burden on the applicants to prove that they have strong ties to their country and place of residence that would compel them to leave the US at the end of the temporary stay.

"If the applicant cannot demonstrate sufficient tie to Nigeria, that applicant has not proven himself qualified for a visa. This is the legal foundation upon which our visa adjudications are based," Brown said.

He emphassised that "the US policy requires us to adhere fully to pertinent laws and regulations regarding visa issuance. We can neither subtract nor add to the law. Our mandate is to administer said law fairly.

In the same manner, French and British foreign missions had at one point or the other stated that the burden of proving the genuiness of their purpose of traveling lies with the Nigerian visa seekers. According to them, the visa officers do their work by conducting appropriate investigation to find out if the travelers are presenting forged documents. In an interview granted to THISDAY on this matter, Dix had maintained that travelers who present forged documents will be handed over to the police.

Who is to blame?

Some observers have heaped the seemingly bad way Nigerians are handled by the foreign missions on the bad economy at home which makes many Nigerians see traveling to foreign countries as part of fulfilling their life ambition.

Proponents of the view argue that public office holders have a role to play in terms of reviving the economy in order to create jobs for our teeming unemplyed youth, as well as give them hope.

Others argue that it is the prerogative of other countries to manage immigration in such a way that suits their economy. They point to the fact that the teeming number of African youths braving the Mediterraenean sea daily to reach the shores of Europe is a problem that European countries are trying to solve in addition to handling the huge number of visa applications received daily.

Some however argue that the officers that issue visa have overwhelming powers that make them arrogant atimes. According to some pundits, they often get tensed up when they encounter crowd at the embassy visa section and snarl at the slightest provocation.

Which Way Forward?

According to Tunde Arogunmati of Toff Resources, it is pertinent to note that Okonjo-Iweala is putting measures in place to ensure that Nigerians are given equitably humane treatment everywhere in the world, "hence she would do well to point out to other embassies, notably the French Embassy that in asmuch as they are willing to collect our money for visa procurement it is imperative upon them to treat their customers with the required dignity, irrespective of the outcome of the application; which in any case should be devoid of primordial sentiments and very underhand requirements such as the procurement of travel insurance and hotel bookings from unregistered partner agencies."

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Postby XSi » Sun Jul 30, 2006 2:02 am

Word man, word. Thanks for this info.
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Postby fw12 » Sun Jul 30, 2006 6:40 am

This Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a real leader. Most of our leaders in government are nothing more than figure heads.

You always have to fight for your right. The manner in which foreign embassies treat Nigerian citizens is a direct result of how much our government cares about us.

Basically, if they know they can do anything and get away with it, what would be their motivation to do the right thing?

Now that Dr Ngozi is standing up to them, you see how suddenly they're on the defensive.

These embassies are so rotten, they take visa fees from people but refuse to issue a visa, and without any form of explanation, even though all required documents have been presented to them. It's such highway robbery.

At the end of the day though, our leaders really need to quite stealing from us. Instead, do something to better the economy. That way Nigerians wouldn't be so desperate to travel outside the country in search of greener pastures. We have oil for goodness sakes! In the past several years, we've had over $1.5 billion dollars coming in each week from oil sales! Yet, ordinary people are hungry. Isn't it such a shame.
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Nigeria replaces economy supremo

Postby Richard Akindele » Wed Aug 02, 2006 9:00 pm

Former Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been removed from her post as head of the country's economic reform team, officials say.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, who negotiated the cancellation of $30bn debt to the Paris Club, was switched in June from the Finance Ministry to Foreign Affairs.

She had remained head of the economics team, but has now been replaced by the new Finance Minister, Nenadi Usman.

There has been no official explanation for the move.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala may still be Nigeria's foreign minister but that belies her apparent sudden fall from grace.

A former top World Bank executive, it was as Nigeria's finance minister and head of President Olusegun Obasanjo's economic reform team that she made her name at home and abroad.

She saved - rather than squandered - the government's profits from oil revenues.

Debt relief

Then she negotiated the largest debt relief deal in Africa, which saw Nigeria's $30bn debt to the Paris Club partly written off, saving the country $18bn.

But without warning in June, she was suddenly switched from being the minister of finance to the prestigious, but less powerful position of foreign minister.

Analysts were concerned but were reassured by the fact that she retained her post as head of the economic team. But now that has gone too.

Her successor, Nenadi Usman, has pledged to keep the reform programme going.

Some reports say President Obasanjo had decided that Mrs Usman had now settled into her new role and was ready to assume more of her duties.

But critics of the president say it appears the change is because of a personal clash.

The timing of the move has also raised eyebrows.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala is currently in London, trying to secure further debt relief for Nigeria.

Although the country's economic reform program is unlikely to change in the short term, the state of Nigeria's finances will now be under even greater scrutiny.
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Heroine of Nigeria's anti-corruption camp quits

Postby Richard Akindele » Tue Aug 08, 2006 5:36 pm

Nigeria was in shock yesterday after the woman credited with masterminding the cancellation of the country's $18bn debt resigned as Foreign Minister, after the President abruptly withdrew her remaining responsibilities for economic reform.

A government statement announced that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala had stepped down because of "a compelling need to take care of pressing family issues".
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Nigerians At Foreign Embassies

Postby fw12 » Sat Oct 21, 2006 3:24 pm

Feeling disturbed by the inhuman treatment meted out to Nigerians swooping on foreign embassies to procure visas, the senate summoned the new foreign affairs minister, Professor Joy Ogwu, early this month, to explain why the dreadful situation has continued for this long. Soon after the senate appearance, the minister called on the foreign diplomatic community in Nigeria to redress the situation at once because the Nigerian government would no longer tolerate it.

We agree. Maltreatment of Nigerians at foreign embassies has been a running sore. In the process of applying for visa, some applicants have either been physically manhandled or have had their passports confiscated by embassy officials. Nigerians have even died as a result of physical exhaustion while on queues to obtain visas.

Even so, we appreciate the problems the embassies here face. Some of them are simply overwhelmed by the huge number of applicants laying siege to their offices daily in search of visas. Some even spend the night in front of the embassies. A few of them, notably the British embassy have in the recent past had to take extraordinary measures to cope. They have had to restructure their operations and upgrade the number of offices, personnel, and other infrastructural facilities, including the introduction of visa by post in order to meet the increasing demand of Nigerians wishing to travel to their countries. In some cases, visa operations were suspended to make the changes. It must be conceded that the embassies which took these pains mostly ended up delivering better and more courteous services to Nigerians in need of travel documents.

But the vast majority of European and American embassies, the obvious targets of migrant Nigerians, still operate in the old groove of humiliating Nigerian visa applicants, especially since the international war on terrorism began.

There is no excuse for this. Whether overwhelmed by applicants or not, embassy officials have a duty to treat Nigerian visa seekers with some dignity. If they consider Nigeria worthwhile for an embassy, then they have a duty to strive constantly to cope, even if it means charging more for their services to do so. Profiling just about every Nigerian either as a likely criminal in their country or an economic refugee is an unacceptable insult.

But even at that, we must accept the truth that the root cause of the problem lies with us. The reason why the number of Nigerians trooping to places like the American and European embassies keeps burgeoning by the day is simply because we have continued to mismanage our economy.

While we appreciate the concern of both the Senate and the foreign affairs minister over the unspeakable humiliation of Nigerians at foreign embassies, we think the proper place to start to tackle the problem is the enthronement of a regime of good governance in Nigeria. The senate, by its constitutional functions, has a lot to do in this. Unfortunately, however, there seems to have been little progress on the road to good governance despite the mighty heavings of the Obasanjo administration. The World Bank report on Worldwide Governance Indicators for this year did not list Nigeria among African countries making progress in good governance and the curtailment of corruption. So also is this year's Global Competitiveness Index by the World Economic Forum which saw Nigeria plummeting from last year's position of 83 to 101 out of 125 countries.

The enormity of the problem can be gauged from the single issue of unemployment. When the administration launched NEEDS, its economic reforms blueprint in 2003, the document envisioned the creation of seven million new jobs by the year 2007. By all accounts, that number is a mere palliative in the face of ballooning unemployment in which an estimated six million new job seekers enter into the Nigerian labour market every year. The tragedy however is that less than three months to 2007, the administration has been unable to announce the many jobs it has created since 2003 for obvious reasons-none to speak of in relation to the rising army of the unemployed.

So, while the government may huff and puff about the maltreatment of globally itinerant Nigerians, it should equally spare some breath for the arduous but more rewarding task of putting our national home in order.

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