The issue of retaliatory visa fees between Nigeria and the United States has brought to the fore the debate about Nigeria’s migration policy and how it affects the country’s visa policy. The US embassy, in announcing the new ‘retaliatory’ visa fee, alluded to a US law. The statement reads thus: ”U.S. law requires U.S. visa fees and validity periods to be based on the treatment afforded to U.S. citizens by foreign governments, insofar as possible. Visa issuance fees are implemented under the principle of reciprocity: when a foreign government imposes additional visa fees on U.S. citizens, the United States will impose reciprocal fees on citizens of that country for similar types of visas.”
As a result of this measure, Nigeria reduced the visa fees for US nationals who travel to Nigeria. A statement by the Ministry of Interior said, “The Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, has approved the decrease of visa charges payable by US citizens in line with reciprocity policy as recommended by ‘the committee.’Accordingly, the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Immigration Service, Muhammad Babandede, has been directed to implement the decrease in Nigeria’s visa charges to US citizens with effect from Thursday, August 29, 2019.” Has the committee’s recommendation translated to a policy document?
Before this the retaliatory measures, Nigerians paid $150 as US non-immigrant visa fee, while US citizens visiting Nigeria paid $180 as visa fee. Before the tit-for-tat approach ignited by the US embassy, Nigeria’s visa was considered to be among the most expensive in the world. There were reports that, at a time, Americans who sought Nigerian visas paid charges like $160 as consular fee, $100 for administration and $10 for processing of the visa. But the predicament of Nigeria visa applicants did not end with the high fee. Nigeria’s visa was difficult to obtain due to several layers of bureaucratic bottlenecks. There was respite since Vice President Yemi Osinbajo put in place measures that facilitate Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria. With the visa at the point of entry policy, foreigners who come to Nigeria for businessprocure visas at Nigeria’s entry points.
However, it is difficult to situate the ideological basis for Nigeria’s immigration policy. What category of foreigners are welcome in Nigeria and why? In the US, there was the visa lottery which attracted highly-skilled individuals from other parts of the world to America. This approach was to feed the US cross-breeding strategy of attracting the best brains from across the world into various sectors. The UK had a similar programmefor attracting Highly Skilled Migrants. But these countries still deliberately attempt to keep away those who would become a burden on them. In European Union countries, and lately United States, migration policy has been a cardinal campaign issue. Elections are won and lost on the basis of a political party’s agenda on migration. Of course, UK’s Brexit is anchored of legal immigration. Both the Labour and Conservative parties have consensus on the need to curtail legal immigration.
In making the decision to issue visas to migrants, consular officers at embassies of developed countries make recourse to their countries’ migration policies. It is for this reason that the American embassy in Nigeria invoked ‘US laws’ while announcing the reciprocity of visa fees. In adjusting the fees Nigeria would charge American nationals who apply for non-immigrant visas, the Ministry of Interior only made reference to a directive from the Minister, not an extant law.
We challenge government to deliberately define Nigeria’s migration policy as a foundation for issuance of visas and other activities in the consular sections of Nigeria’s diplomatic missions. The cut-and-paste system of adapting practices from other parts of the world cannot be the best approach. For instance, if there is ECOWAS protocol that guarantees freedom of movement among ECOWAS citizens, how does Nigeria implement this policy in dealing with threats to its existence by cross-border bandits and terrorists? Migration policies should answer questions of this nature.