The United States recently announced a hike in the fees for Nigerians applying for various categories of visas effective from Thursday, August 29, 2019. The new visa regime, which came three months after the U.S. cancelled the dropbox system for Nigerian visa applicants, will apply to all Nigerians applying for visa worldwide. In the revised schedule, Nigerians applying for tourism, student and business visas will pay both the non-immigrant visa application fee of N59,200 and an additional fee of $110 (N40,700), thereby bringing the sum of visa fee to N99,900.
However, Nigerian applicants who are denied visas would not need to pay the new $110 (N40,700). The Public Affairs Section of U.S. Embassy in Abuja said the increased visa fee was done based on the principle of reciprocity and designed to eliminate the cost difference between what U.S. citizens pay to obtain Nigerian visas and what Nigerians pay to obtain U.S. visa.
The embassy said that the U.S. law requires that visa fees and validity periods are based on the treatment accorded U.S. citizens by foreign governments. 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. According to the U.S. Embassy, the increment was done after talks with Nigerian government on the need to reduce visa cost for U.S. citizens to Nigeria broke down. Barely 48 hours after U.S. announced the hike in its visa fees, the Federal Government of Nigeria announced an immediate reduction in visa fees payable by U.S. citizens seeking to travel to Nigeria.
By the reduction, U.S. citizens are now to pay $150, as against the $180 for procuring visas to Nigeria. The action, which was taken by the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, was seen in many circles as a pre-emptive one aimed at forestalling a possible diplomatic row between both countries.
The ministry acknowledged that there were engagements with the United States Embassy on the issue and, in the aftermath, a committee was set up to conduct due diligence in line with extant policy on reciprocity of visa fees.
It said that though the committee had concluded its assignment and submitted a report, the issuance of authorisation for implementation of its recommendations was delayed due to transition processes in the U.S., Nigeria’s reciprocity visa fees ministry. If these explanations were directed at appeasing the United States and dissuading it from giving effect to its new visa fee, the move failed, as the U.S. insisted on its planned action the following day. This is quite unfortunate and should serve as a lesson to Nigeria.
As the U.S. stated and Nigeria corroborated, there were discussions between both countries on how to ensure relative parity in their visa fees. It is apparent that there was an agreement in principle for Nigeria to make the needed changes, but this move was unduly delayed. We learnt that 18 months after the review and consultations, the government of Nigeria failed to change its visa fee regime for U.S. applicants, which forced the U.S. Department of State to unleash the new reciprocity fees.
As it stands now, Nigeria has boxed itself into a corner because we failed to do the needful at the right time. What we could have resolved diplomatically and behind the scene, we have allowed to blow up in our face. If we could reduce the visa fees within 48 hours after the U.S. took its punitive action, what exactly held us back to take such a swift action long before now? Agreed that Nigeria held its general election earlier in the year and President Muhammadu Buhari did not inaugurate his cabinet until a few weeks ago, there is no excuse for delaying action on the visa fee, which has already been reviewed downwards during the last dispensation. The permanent secretary, Ministry of Interior, who took charge in the absence of a minister, is a top ranking bureaucrat, who should have known better and, perhaps, acted better on this matter.
We think that going forward, Nigeria’s Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs need to be more sensitive to the dynamics of decent bilateral relations. Our officials who serve in these two strategic ministries must understand that they are not just dealing with people, but dealing with the international community, who expect to be treated according to international best practices. Nigerian Missions across the world are the windows through which foreign nationals and their home countries see Nigeria and what we stand for as a people.
In international relations and diplomacy, there is not just the principle of reciprocity, there is also the principle of pacta san savanda, which literally means that agreements, once reached, must be respected. Nigeria must, henceforth, learn to adhere to mutual agreements reached with other nations and avoid situations where our conduct portrays us as a people lacking discipline and dignity.