Henry was a top insurance broker in Nigeria before he migrated to the United Kingdom (UK) for greener pastures on the crest of Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) visa. As a top flight insurance broker, he had everything going for him—decent accommodation, fairly good car, reward for good performance and opportunity to rise to higher positions in his organisation. But all that, for the young man, was inadequate.
He had read about how well insurance brokers are paid abroad and imagined how his life would change if he travelled out and earn a salary which when converted to naira would turn him into an instant millionaire. To actualise his dream, he quit his job and left for the UK with a promise to people he left behind that he would soon begin to send cars and hard currency to them.
On getting g to the UK, he tried his best to secure a job similar to the one he was doing in Nigeria but he could not get any. He found himself sweating in the cold temperature of the UK as he found himself unfit for the system. In the end, a friend got him a job as a security officer with a small private firm. Unfortunately, the pay was not enough for him to renew his HSMP visa even though it was better than what he earned in Nigeria.
In the end, the Home Office (HO) gave him 72 hours to leave the UK. But rather than comply, he simply changed his residential address and carried on with his job without informing his employer about the change in his staying status.
A friend to Henry said: “The HO Police went to the office of the security company where he worked after a deportation order was issued and a call was made to him to report in the office immediately. But someone in the office tipped him off about the presence of the police, so he managed to escape deportation.
“He was lucky to be off duty at the time the police visited. Otherwise, he would have been arrested and deported after serving a jail term for working without permit. His predicament has since caused him to go underground, looking for menial jobs and begging for charity.”
Yet as far as the young Nigerian was concerned, it was better to remain a wanderer in the UK than return to Nigeria empty handed to be taunted by friends and relations.
Like Henry, Bukky, an experienced nurse in a government owned hospital in Lagos, also quit her job to travel to the UK on the HSMP visa obtained with the help of a relative who qualified in the UK as a medical doctor.
As a nurse, she had read and heard how much her services would be needed and rewarded abroad. Without wasting time, she saved enough money and obtained a working visa. With the HSMP visa conditions, she was tied to four year visa with her employer – at Camberwell.
A friend of hers said: “In order to change her visa to permanent stay without restrictions, she needed to prove to the Home Office that she’s now ‘settled’ in the UK. As a result, she travelled back to Nigeria to arrange a marriage with an old boyfriend. All the expenses were borne by her.
“She subsequently obtained a visa for the ‘hubby’ and both of them travel to the UK, but the man could not get a job immediately. At a point the man became bored and started having affairs all over the place, flirting and visiting so many dating sites.
“Of course, their marriage crumbled, only for Bukky to realise that the husband actually had another wife and a child in Nigeria to whom he had been sending money to regularly from Bukky’s bank account.
“Bukky literally went ‘mental’. She lost her pregnancy and has not been herself since. She’s now recovering in a psychiatric home while the whereabouts of the husband is unknown.
“The only good thing is that the Home Office has allowed her to stay in the UK permanently without any restrictions, and she is now waiting to become a full UK citizen. Will she ever go back to Nigeria? I doubt that very much. Not for another husband anyway.”
Bukky’s friend also shared the story of two Nigerian ladies who travelled to the UK on six-month tourist visas that could not be renewed.
She said: “Many Nigerians allow their tourist visas to expire without leaving the UK. And knowing that without their old passport the Nigerian Embassy in the UK, by law, cannot issue them ETC (emergency travelling certificate), they burn their passports and clone the identities of legal UK residents that they know. As things stand, many of them may not be able to visit their home country again.
“But the most tragic thing is that many of them are suffering and are at the mercy of other Nigerians in the Diaspora who have turned them into slaves of sorts. This is the story many Nigerians abroad would not tell their family members at home. To compound their problems, some embassies and high commission offices are not making things easy.”
In a viral video, the Nigerian High Commission in Atlanta Georgia, United States, was fingered as one of the places the issue of documentation and passport renewal are made difficult.
In the video, a Nigerian who was frustrated about the hurdles placed in the ways of Nigerians who want to renew their passports described the situation at the high commission as “chaotic”.
According to the man that speaks in the background of the video, the staff at the Nigerian High Commission, aside from collecting the passport application fee, would make Nigerians pay another 130 dollars.
“Nigerians have to stay in the sun outside the embassy disorganised dishevel, leave their homes, travel by flight and sleep in hotels. (They) spend about 1,500 dollars for this trip just because they want to renew their passports,” he said.
In comparison, he said, the citizens of a country like the Republic of Benin do not have to travel but only mail their passports.
“We must stop this. It is a fraud. Defrauding Nigerians in the name of ‘there is no money’ to run the embassy. Where has Nigeria’s money gone to? What happened to the budget?” he queried.
For many Nigerians who are living abroad illegally, returning home to settle down or visit family members could be a pipe dream. According to an immigration lawyer, the problem with most immigrants, especially those with multiple entry visas, starts when they want to work in the UK.
According to him, the visa confers on them the status of visitors who are not allowed to work. “Most Nigerian immigrants adopt other people’s names and use the documents of genuine citizens who are allowed to work. In most cases, when such a visitor is caught, the penalty is always grave. Unfortunately, most Nigerians who come as visitors always have it at the back of their minds to work in the UK.”
According to him, it is a bit better for those with multiple visas. But it is also a big risk. Most of them would come in, work and use the proceeds of their work to buy goods. He said what they normally do is to extend the visa for two or three years and they would start working.
“After a while, they go to the home office and change their status from being a visitor to that of a trader or a business person. But it is a big risk, because in the process of trying to gather money, nothing must go wrong. For those of them that managed to escape immigration, it is always neither here nor there because they would not want to come back to Nigeria because of the fear of being caught by the immigration at the airport.”
A Nigerian with dual citizenship who lives in the United Kingdom told The Nation that some Nigerians who are stranded in the country are sometimes assisted by people like him. But he said it could spell a disaster if they are caught.
He said: “If stranded Nigerians want to go out of the country (UK), what they normally do is to look for someone with both the Nigerian and the United Kingdom passports. The one with the UK and the Nigerian citizenship will buy the ticket in his own name, pretending that he is travelling to Nigeria, check in, collect the boarding pass or even travel together.
“The only snag is that you can’t use such in two places because the gate the foreigner will pass through is different from the gate the UK citizen would pass through. But as soon as the Nigerian gets to the airport, he would send the passport back to the UK.
“This costs a lot of money and it is a big racket here. They charge as much as £2,000. But if caught, the owner of such a passport could also go to jail. Though very risky, that is the only way those that had been stranded get out of the UK.
“Although using another person’s passport may be difficult, some who are not eligible to work also change their identity by using another person’s document to work. But this has its own challenge too as the salary or the wage is paid into the account of the owner of the identity. The real owner deducts his own commission at source and gives whatever they agreed on to the borrower of his identity.
“This has its own problem too because the owner of the identity could decide to be dubious. He may decide not to pay a dime to the person using his identity, knowing full well that the person would not be able to report.”
Speaking to The Nation, Susan, who has lived in the United Kingdom for six years, said she came to the country with a student visa. But after finishing her studies, she decided to stay and work and has been using another person’s identity. Suzan said: “I was employed by a Nigerian agent to work as a caregiver. Most times when it is time to pay, the owner of the agency, a woman, would have one reason or the other not to pay. She would tell you that if you are aggrieved, you may report to the police. It sucks. What can you do?”
Suzan said if she would be able to get a job in Nigeria where she would be able to earn N500,000 a month, she would definitely return home.
There is also the case of one Peter who travelled to the United Kingdom. At a point that things were getting difficult for him, he approached his friend who gave him his driver’s licence which he used to apply for a job in a supermarket.
He said: “It was my friend that applied for the job for me. He gave me his driver’s licence but warned me sternly that if I was caught he would deny me and tell the police that I stole his identity. He warned me not to use his identity to borrow from a bank or get into debt.”
Peter was lucky for two years, using his friend’s identity to work without paying a dime to the owner of the identity. He applied for asylum and for more than two years, he kept appealing. He had his documents in the home office and was eventually granted an asylum.
“I was just lucky. It is always sweet when you are not caught. I couldn’t see my family during that period because if I made any attempt to come to Nigeria, they would not allow me to return to the UK. It was traumatic.
But using another person’s identity brings a lot of trouble. A Nigerian living in Texas, Dele Peters, told The Nation how a Nigerian was caught using the identity of a dead person. The real owner of the identity is in Texas while the person that assumes the new identity lives in Ohio. “Unfortunately, the owner of the identity who lived in Texas died. But the one with a fake identity kept using the document of the dead person even when she knew that the owner of the identity was dead.
“Unfortunately, this country is wired. They knew that the real owner was dead but he was still paying tax. Everybody pays tax. So, if you work, your employer remits taxes on your behalf to the federal, state and county. That the name was dead in Texas and yet a company was remitting taxes on her behalf was a red flag.
“Of course, the impostor did not realise that this could be monitored. When the authorities went to check his place of work, they discovered that it was another person that was using the document. The fingerprint of the person using a dead person’s document was taken, so it became difficult for him to work again. Even if he wanted to work, it would be under the table,” he said.
According to Peters, the system is fashioned in such a way that if you are caught, you may be lucky not to be deported but it is the system that would render such a person useless. “You won’t be able to function if your name is flagged on employment issue, particularly if it is based on dishonesty,” Peter explained.
He said the good thing is that such a person could go back to Nigeria but it would be difficult to return to the United States.
According to him, there are many of them in different correctional centres in the United States due to some of the things we do at home that do not attract sanctions.
“Here, it is a big deal and you could be jailed for it,” he said.
According to him, having a relationship with a teenager, watching ponography at work may not attract much sanction in Nigeria, but in the United States, it is regarded as felony sexual conduct and this attracts serious sanction. “Ethically, it is wrong if you are as a nurse or a doctor to have porn on your phone. I know some Nigerians who were locked and had their licenses seized because of that.
“I know of someone here in this state. He was working with elderly people and the physically challenged. On duty he was watching porn. He left his phone because he needed to attend to an emergency. One of the physically challenged picked his phone and the first thing they saw on the phone was porn. That was a big error.
“He was prosecuted. He lost his licence and there was no way he would get a good job.
Fortunately for him, he ran to Canada because he is a citizen and reordered his life there.”
After returning from jail, such a person could be living on government benefits or foundation benefits. Such a person may not return to Nigeria because his record has been taken. And if he goes to Nigeria, he will not be allowed to return to the United States, except such a person is a citizen.
For some of them who are not citizens, they always prefer not to return to Nigeria because they would not be allowed entry into the country.
Peters also disclosed that some Nigerians deliberately prefer to be cab drivers because this gives them room to evade child support payment. “They know that if they do regular jobs, the government will continue to deduct their money from the source for child support. Some of them have two, three children outside without bothering to care for such children. In the real parlance, they have ‘baby mamas’ that they are not married to but have children with. If they are reported by the mother of their children, anywhere they work, their paychecks are always garnished.
“Quite a number of them do not like it. How do you make 6000 dollars a month and you can only have 400 dollars to show for it?”
“If you were married, doing well and all of a sudden, things started going south between the married couple, after divorce, one could claim spousal support. What that mean is that a percentage of your income goes to support the other even when you are no more married! But if you do not have an income that matches what percentage could be garnished, you’re free of such support.
“The medical doctor chose to be a cab driver where he only could determine his income declaration.”
He said if these set of people decide to come back to Nigeria, there is the tendency for the authorities to know that they had evaded their payments and could attract imprisonment. “So, most of them prefer to go underground rather than risk jail terms.”
While many other Nigerians were wandering the streets of London and New York, a nursing mother, Adeyinka Gbemisola, got a reprieve in court. Gbemisola, 45, had arrived in the UK on a visitor visa that permitted her to remain in the country till 2023, but not allowed to work.
According to a report by a magazine, Nigeria Abroad, a Manchester-based job agency, Local Care Force, became suspicious of Gbemisola after checking her CV and was unable to make contact with her referees.
According to the magazine, “the work documents she provided, upon investigations, it was discovered that she had previously worked illegally in the UK via another recruitment agency on £9 per hour and earned around £1,800.
Gbemisola was charged to court, where her lawyer, Joshua Bowker, argued that she had fled Nigeria from an abusive husband and had to obtain a fake UK resident’s card for a job in the care industry.
Gbemisola’s lawyer appealed to the judge to consider her, saying she took the chance “to put food on the table for her two kids, not to fund a lavish lifestyle,” and that her children would “suffer” if she was jailed.
Luckily for Gbemisola, the judge was persuaded by Gbemisola’s lawyer’s argument that she took the chance “to put food on the table for her two kids not to fund a lavish lifestyle,” and that her children would “suffer” if she was jailed.
Responding, the judge said that Gbemisola did what she did in order to earn money for her children, “but this must be taken seriously because those documents could have been used by someone with more sinister intentions to obtain work with vulnerable people and put them at risk.
“I take the view that you are clearly remorseful, have a realistic prospect of rehabilitation, are a full-time carer for your children and they would suffer greatly if you were to go to prison today.”
Gbemisola eventually got a six-month suspended sentence.
A suspended sentence, according to the magazine, places a defendant on probation and is likely to be discharged if the defendant does not break the law during the probation. – The Nation.