Nigerians in Diaspora petition over Visa system collapse

  • Only one visa centre services 50 American states
  • May hinder travel plans at Yuletide
Nigerians living in the United States wishing to come to Nigeria for the Yuletide may be stuck following a critical emergency with regard to the visa situation in Nigeria’s diplomatic missions in the US.
A group of concerned Nigerians living in America led by Managing Partner, US Nigeria Law Group based in Washington DC, Mr. Emmanuel Ogebe said the resulting system failures are endangering the well-being of thousands of Nigerians who are planning to travel to Nigeria for the upcoming Christmas holiday and couldn’t possibly have happened at a worse time.
He stated that without any significant advance notice or prior sensitization, the Nigerian government decided to consolidate visa processing into one independent contractor to service the entire 50 states of the US home to over one million Nigerian citizens.
Ogede, in a petition to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema and made available to stated that the situation could massively affect monies remitted by Nigerians in Diaspora.
To him, the contributions from Diaspora is more than the $22 billion as citizens return with cash, goods, projects and other value added resources and human capital which he said is not easily quantifiable.
Any obstructions in the path of visiting Nigerians apart from being morally reprehensible, he said is also self-economic sabotage.
“Nigerians in Diaspora are Nigeria’s number one tourism dollars source and the country’s largest non-oil forex earner. While Diasporans have no voting powers, they should at least not be disallowed basic travel documents.
“Besides the economic importance, I am constrained to write this urgent SOS to you due to a bereavement of a Diasporan who has been unable to obtain travel documents to return home for her mother’s burial. Culturally, this is abominable”.
This situation, he reiterated negates the very purpose for having consulates in New York and Atlanta which he said are major population centres for Nigerians in Diaspora.
He recalled that indeed during Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s town hall meeting with Nigerians in Diaspora in October last year, citizens in Houston asked for a consulate there as well.
“Rather than bring government closer to the people, this action has taken government and consular services farther away from them”, he added.
He further stated that there are also questions as to why one solitary company would be tasked with such an onerous responsibility normally serviced by duly trained and paid diplomats and support staff for years.
His words, “It is clear that this organisation neither has the capacity nor geographic footprint to properly serve the needs of visa applicants in the US. Worse still, the identities and personal data of applicants will now be in the hands of unknown private individuals”.
He said worse still, a biometric requirement had apparently been introduced for intending visitors to Nigeria, stressing that this means that applicants now have to travel from Los Angeles to Washington, the equivalent of flying from Lagos to London just to apply for a Nigerian visa.
He lamented that this is not only an onerous but an absurd situation that will only cause more hardship on citizens and potential investors.
“It should be noted that while citizens had to travel for passport biometrics, they had the option of three US locations Atlanta, Washington and New York to go to. If they couldn’t travel, the fall back option was to apply for a visa which didn’t require their physical presence. This current situation has deprived Nigerians of affordable visa application options without needless travel”.
Ogebe hinted that the company exclusively contracted to process visas in the US has been overwhelmed and unprofessional, stressing that callers have been on hold for almost an hour only to be told to leave a voicemail message and wait for a return call that may never come.
He said unlike the embassy which is a known entity and where there is some form of accountability, there is no immediate follow up system for the private company OIS.
This, he reiterated adds to delays, frustration and avoidable angst for applicants, noting that ironically, Vice President Osinbajo had assured of expedited visa processing in 48 hours last year when speaking at an investment forum in Houston Texas.
This situation to the group is quite contrary to the government’s publicly stated position.
The legal practitioner frowned at reportedly few passport booklets or no visa stamps for issuance even if all the above dysfunctionalities were addressed, describing the situation as scandalous, outrageous and unacceptable on any level.
“Citizens are asking for the globally recognized identity and nationality tender. This is the most basic of services every country must render to its citizens in the global community.  Besides that this is not a free service. Nigerians are paying for this document.
“More so citizens in Diaspora are paying for the passport in dollars at a higher rate than their counterparts at home. How Nigeria could fail in this minimum service delivery obligation to provide paid for passports is shocking, appalling and unconscionable”.
He called on the Minister to investigate how and why such a disruptive change was done without wide sensitization and consultation with stakeholders in the Diaspora and in particular the suspicious exclusive contract with OIS.
Wole Shadare