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ough times await travellers as US suspends visa ‘Drop Box’ - BUSINESSDAY

MAY 16, 2019

…Security, system overhaul among reasons for suspension – sources

By  OBINNA EMELIKE & IFEOMA OKEKE

 

 

The Embassy and Consulate of the United States in Nigeria has suspended the interview waiver “Drop Box” application process effective May 14, 2019, according to a notice posted on the US Embassy website seen by BusinessDay.

This means that intending Nigerian travellers to the United States of America (USA) who usually take advantage of the easy renewal option of drop-box for some classes of visas will no longer have such luxury.

“All applicants in Nigeria seeking a nonimmigrant visa to the United States must apply online, and will be required to appear in-person at the US Embassy in Abuja or US Consulate General in Lagos to submit their application for review. Applicants must appear at the location they specified when applying for the visa renewal,” the public affairs section of the US Embassy in Abuja said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Processing of diplomatic and official (A, G, and NATO class) visa applications will continue unchanged,” the statement said.

The drop-box service offers interview waiver at the US embassies across the country to applicants seeking visa reissuance under the B1/B2, F, M, L and H visa classes.

Those attempting to renew their visas must now attend visa interviews like first-timers.
“Those who have already submitted their passports via ‘Drop Box’ to DHL for processing either at the US Embassy in Abuja, or the Consulate General in Lagos, will not be impacted by this change,” the statement said.

The development is expected to impact on the visa processing system, especially the number of applications and time of processing them. Already, Lagos handles over 2,000 applications a day, while Abuja handles about 500 a day. As well, more backlog of unprocessed applications and delays are expected with the suspension.

On the reason for the suspension, the US Embassy in Abuja said, “Mission Nigeria’s processing procedures are regularly reviewed in order to assess our ability to quickly, efficiently, and securely process visa applications. The U.S. Mission is taking this step to provide more efficient customer service and promote legitimate travel, and will continue to facilitate applications of established travelers to the best of its ability.”

Informed insiders, however, said the suspension was due to security challenges and need to overhaul the visa processing system in Nigeria.

Some of the insiders think that the US home affairs and immigration believe that visa processing and granting have become easy in recent time and needs to be firmed up. According to them, easy access to the United States poses a major security threat to the country.

The suspension, according to an insider, may last over a year until the US scrutinises those already given visas when they reapply, pass new applicants through stricter measures and ensure that every Nigerian granted a US visa qualifies for it.

Ikile Adams, a lawyer and immigration expert, said the suspension was also due to the mass exodus to Canada by many Nigerians who use the US route to cross over to Canada, seeking asylum and causing diplomatic row between both countries.

However, Mike Oniga, a frequent traveller who cannot now travel to New York as scheduled due to the drop-box visa cancellation, said that the suspension will not stop Nigerians from applying for US visas because America holds a lot of dreams and promises for them, and there are millions of Nigerian families between the two countries that need to connect.

Adams, similarly, thinks that US universities are still open to aspiring Nigeria undergraduates who will apply until they are offered visas.

“The drop box was a big relief for many Nigerians that they didn’t have to go through the process all over again, thereby wasting precious time and money,” Chinyere Nkem-Aribodor, a travel consultant and CEO, Optmserve Travels and Tour Limited, told BusinessDay.

“The suspension will make the process more cumbersome and expensive for many Nigerians, especially those who travel often, but on the whole the impact on the number of Nigerians seeking visa to US is likely going to be minimal as US still remains a destination that is less complicated to obtain a visa when compared to other first world countries,” Nkem-Aribodor said.

Bankole Bernard, president, National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), said the decision is not a welcome idea, adding that everywhere around the world countries are trying to make the world borderless where people can have free movement and access to visas is one of the ways to make this possible.

“By suspending the drop-box, the US is going to increase the number of people going to one location, all to just go and queue up for interviews and this is going to frustrate a lot things, including stretching the US Consulate manpower,” Bernard told BusinessDay.

“Summer is around the corner and this is going to really make travelling difficult. Currently, people wait between two to three months from the time they apply for US visas before they go for visa interviews. With this new development, I wonder how many months people may have to wait. It is only in Nigeria that things like these happen and it is sad the Federal Government may not do anything about it,” Bernard added.

Jitten Vyas, chief operating officer of VFS Global in Africa, last year announced that about 200,000 Nigerians applied annually for visas to various countries through his organisation.
According to Vyas, many Nigerians always apply for visas to travel to different countries of the world for leisure, studies and business trips.

“There is a growing interest of young Nigerians wanting to study, work, live, go for leisure and do business overseas today,” Vyas said.

Travel experts and agents have alleged that over 60 percent of the 200,000 applicants are denied visas annually without refund.

OBINNA EMELIKE & IFEOMA OKEKE

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