How US Immigrant Visa Ban Affects Nigerians

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•Families, professionals to bear the brunt

By Demola Ojo

On January 31 2020, President Donald Trump of the United States signed a Presidential Proclamation that imposed an immigrant visa ban on Nigeria and three other countries – Eritrea, Myanmar (also known as Burma) and Kyrgyzstan.

Immigrants are those who seek admission to the United States on a permanent basis through family, employment, or through the Diversity Lottery Programme.

Immigrant visas were targeted because people with those visas are the most difficult to remove after they arrive in the US.

The ban targets all immigrants except special immigrants whose eligibility is based on having provided assistance to the United States government.

In order to obtain a waiver, an applicant must prove undue hardship if entry were denied, that entry will not pose a threat to the US’ national security, and entry is in the US’ national interest.

The immigrant visa ban does not affect those who have a visa presently, or have it issued before February 21, the day the ban comes into effect.

Disconnecting Families

With the new immigrant ban set to take off in 11 days, the effects will be far-reaching. It is anticipated that more families in qualifying relationships under the US immigration statute will be separated.

Family immigration is the primary basis for legal immigration to the US. Under current immigration law, US citizens and lawful permanent residents can sponsor certain family members for a visa that provides permanent residence, also known as a “green card.”

But with the expanded immigrant ban, Nigerian spouses can’t apply for their partners to live with them in the US permanently. They can only visit. This also holds true for parents and children, where one party is an American citizen (or resident) and the other is not.

The ban will also affect professionals seeking job opportunities in the US. Now, regardless of their qualifications, capabilities or how highly-sought their skills are, the US job market is closed to them.

The good news, which is worth stressing, is that non-immigrant visas given to people for temporary stays – including tourists, students, those doing business or people seeking medical treatment – would not be impacted by the new rules.

However, these groups will be subject to extra scrutiny, especially because of last year’s reports of a significant percentage of Nigerians overstaying their visas. Already, the number of Nigerians being granted these non-immigrant visas has reduced because of this.

Long Time Coming

In May last year, THISDAY reported that Nigerians especially, may suffer American visa denials, as the White House shifted its focus from the surge of families crossing the US-Mexico border to the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who arrive in the US legally and then illegally remain after their visas expire.

In an effort to slow the trend, Trump ordered Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and the then acting Homeland Security Secretary, Kevin McAleenan, to implement a broad series of punishments for countries whose citizens overstay their tourist and business visas more than 10 per cent of the time.

Trump gave the State Department four months to consult with Homeland Security officials and Attorney General William Barr to recommend sanctions, which he said could include suspending or limiting visas for those countries.

Of the 195, 785 Nigerians that visited the US in 2018 for business or pleasure via air and sea port of entries, 29,004 refused to leave after their visit with an additional 719 Nigerians leaving after the expiration of their visas. This amounted to an overstay rate of 15.18 per cent, which was a significant climb from 3.05 per cent in 2014.

At the time, critics questioned the criteria used by the Trump administration, suggesting that using the percentage of overstays as a measure, disproportionately targeted African nations while avoiding political conflicts with large, powerful countries, such as China and India.

Of all the African countries, only Nigeria posted a significant number of visa “overstayers” while also having a percentage that fit into Trump’s target category.

Targeting Nigerians Again?

Of the nationalities facing the new immigrant ban, Nigerians account for the most immigration to the US. According to US government statistics, the State Department issued 8,018 immigrant visas to Nigerians in 2018. That same year, just 31 were issued to Eritreans, the only other African country with a total immigrant ban on the new expanded list.

Note that Sudan and Tanzania are only excluded from the Green Card lottery programme. Citizens of these countries can still attain permanent residency through family or employment.

Reasons for Ban

According to the Trump administration, the immigrant ban is designed to tighten security for countries that don’t comply with US minimum security standards or cooperate to prevent illegal immigration.

Trump’s proclamation said Nigeria did not adequately share public-safety and terrorism-related information, which is necessary for the protection of the national security and public safety of the US.

It continued that Nigeria also presents a high risk, relative to other countries in the world, of terrorist travel to the US.

It, however, stated that Nigeria was an important strategic partner in the global fight against terrorism, and the US continues to engage with Nigeria on these and other issues.

Trump said that the Department of State had provided significant assistance to Nigeria as it modernizes its border management capabilities, and the government of Nigeria recognizes the importance of improving its information sharing with the US.

“…Nevertheless, these investments have not yet resulted in sufficient improvements in Nigeria’s information sharing with the United States for border and immigration screening and vetting.”

Slow to Act

The Nigerian government last Saturday promised to address the security issues the Trump administration cited in its decision to stop granting immigration visas.

President Muhammadu Buhari established a committee “to study and address the updated US requirements,” according to presidential spokesman Femi Adesina.

“The committee will work with the US government, Interpol and other stakeholders to ensure all updates are properly implemented,” Adesina said.

Unfortunately, this committee is 11 months late, and it is fair to say the government failed Nigerians on this. This is because the US government notified all foreign governments of a change in its performance metrics for identity-management and information sharing criteria on March 11, 2019.

The US said Nigeria and the five other affected countries were among the worst-performing in the world and reportedly increased engagements about these deficiencies.

A number of foreign governments sent senior officials to Washington D.C. to discuss the issues, explore potential solutions, and convey views about obstacles to improving performance.

As a result of this engagement, neighbouring Chad (which borders Nigeria at the epicentre of the Boko Haram terrorism menace) made “sufficient improvements in its information-sharing and identity-management practices and was removed from consideration for travel restrictions.”

Possible Review

In the proclamation by Trump, the Secretary of Homeland Security in consultation with the Secretary of State, “…shall on October 1, 2020, and annually thereafter, submit to the President the results of an evaluation as to whether to continue, terminate, modify, or supplement any suspensions of, or limitations on, the entry on certain classes of nationals of countries identified in section 2 of this proclamation…”

In essence, if the US sees an improvement in the criteria that was used to ban Nigerians, then this ban can be reversed. The ball is in the court of the Buhari-led government.

The government needs to step up to the plate and ensure sufficient improvements in its information-sharing and identity-management practices, which can help in removing Nigerians from the list of those banned from being permanent residents of the US.