The US Consulate-General in Lagos last week took the media on a tour of the Consulate’s operations to dispel myths and misinformation about obtaining US visa
The United States embassy is just one of the many embassies in the country. But from all indications, it is perhaps, the busiest, given the volume of visa applicants that throng the embassy on a daily basis. At the US consulate general office in Lagos, over 1,000 non-immigrant visa applications are treated daily, majority of which are approved. Will Laidlaw, Country Consular Chief, said over 70 per cent of visa applications are approved by the embassy. This is done on purpose.
The US is keen at encouraging tourism. In 2014, tourism accounted for 2.6 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product and supports approximately 7.8 million US jobs. From records, Nigeria contributes heavily to this development. Out of the 75 million international visitors to the US last year, there were about 420,000 Nigerians. In 2014, close to 240,000 visa applications, cutting across immigrant and non-immigrant visas were adjudicated out of which 141,600 were issued. And over the last five years, Laidlaw said non-immigrant visa applications have increased by about 179 per cent.
Laidlaw attributed the increase in the number of visa applications over the years to the increase in the volume of businesses in Nigeria resulting in more business travels to the US, adding that more students are also going to the US to study. He disclosed that between 7,000 and 8,000 Nigerians are studying in the US and because more Nigerians are also in the US, more applications are coming from friends and relatives, who want to visit them.
But such improvements notwithstanding, some Nigerians, especially visa applicants who do not quite understand the processes involved in visa applications work with the information given them by agents and which most times are erroneous. It was in their effort to set the record straight, dispel certain myths about visa process and enable the public to sieve truth from lies that the Consulate, last Wednesday, September 16, conducted some journalists on a media tour of the Consulate’s operations.
During the tour, which saw the reporters visit some important sections such as the visa application reception area, waiting area and most important, the visa processing area, the officers explained what happens during visa interviews with particular reference to what are expected of applicants.
In their explanations, Laidlaw, Dimitri Varmazis, consular officer and Amanda Roberson, also a consular officer, maintained that during interviews, applicants need not panic or claim what they are not so long as they are honest about their intentions for wanting to visit the US. They stressed that the series of questions asked by the officers are meant to convince the officers that the applicants have ties to Nigeria, strong enough to pull them back to the country on the completion of their businesses in the US.
According to Roberson, applicants should disabuse their minds of the common belief that visas are granted based on the volume of documents an individual is able to assemble. This erroneous belief has forced some persons to falsify documents and the result is that when they are caught, they are banned from seeking access to the US for a certain period of time, or for life. Rather than face such a risk, Roberson advised that in addition to providing only the required documents, applicants should as much as possible provide honest, concise and precise response to the questions posed to them. “You don’t have to lie to us. We want to make quick but accurate decisions. The interview session is short but we would want applicants to tell us the honest truth that would not give us difficulty making decisions,” said Roberson, who also stated that the decision to give or deny visas is based on the understanding of the US immigration law.
As the consular officers maintained, certain things could deny an applicant visa. For instance, in the case of a non-immigrant visa, an applicant must show that he has strong ties to Nigeria. In the case of an immigrant visa, it is the opposite. This is for a reason. Some people who were issued visas for a specific number of weeks or months sometimes overstay the time limit.
Laidlaw explained that Nigerians’ overstaying rate is about 6-7 per cent. So, if an applicant fails to prove that he has ties to the country that would compel him to return, the belief is that he may decide to stay back in the US and the best way to stop it is to deny the individual visa. Again, if an applicant fails to prove that he has strong reasons to visit the US, he may also be denied visa. This, perhaps, explains the case of one Abayomi Victor, who was denied visa last week.
Victor, a businessman and a farmer from Ogun State, told the magazine that during the interview, he had told his interviewer that he was a fan of late Michael Jackson and would want to travel to the US to see his grave as a tourist. Expressing his disappointment over the visa denial, he said he would apply again next year to see if his request would be granted.
Another erroneous belief that the consular officers wanted Nigerians to do away with is the fact that most first-time applicants as well as those who have not travelled out before, are denied visas. But the consular officers say there is no truth in that, stating that once an applicant provides the needed response to questions asked, he would get visa, whether or not he has travelled or applied before.
With the media tour, the consular officers are optimistic that the general public would be better informed about the US visa process and would be able to access their visas once the process if followed to the letter.