• Introduction

The world is a global village and despite the fact that Modern States have become borderless in this technological age, there is still a burning desire by persons of different nationalities to carry out physical transactions across borders. Such transactions could be legitimate, in terms of foreign investments[1], international trade, diplomatic visits, and tourism amongst others. The transactions could also be illegitimate in terms of terrorism, human trafficking, and illicit international markets amongst others. The recognition of these transactions has given rise to the central regulations of migrations of persons across borders by the entity of the State. Most importantly, the main reasons why states regulate such migration are to check illegal immigration, security concerns, and reciprocity for visa restrictions imposed on their own nationals. In this wise, several States often adopt Laws, Regulations and Policies to regulate such migrations. The regulation of the migration of Foreigners into a country is done through the issuance of Visa.

The word “Visa”, according to section 116 of the Immigration Act 2015,  means an impress or endorsement by any means on a travel document, purporting to be signed and dated by an officer appointed for that purpose by or on behalf of the Government of Nigeria, and authorizing entry into or transit across Nigeria subject to compliance with any special requirements prescribed by the immigration authorities at a port of entry, and valid for specified time and for the number of journeys stated therein.”

In U. S. v. Vargas,[2]Justice Neaher defined the word Visa as follows:

“… a visa was traditionally affixed to a passport itself. It continues to be defined as an endorsement made on a passport by the proper authorities (as of the country the bearer wishes to enter) denoting that it has been examined and that the bearer is permitted to proceed.”

In Goldsmith v. Snohomish County[3],Madam Justice Marsha Pechman wrote that “A policy is a deliberate choice to follow a course of action made from among various alternatives by the official or officials responsible for establishing final policy with respect to the subject matter in question.”

From the foregoing, visa policy can then be said to be the course of action that a State has adopted in relation to the grant and refusal of its visa to foreigners.

In Nigeria, immigration is an exclusive matter[4]on which only the Federal Legislative body, the National Assembly can legislate. The central legislation in this wise is the Nigerian Immigration Act of 2015[5] which establishes the major regulator, the Nigerian Immigration Service under the Ministry of Interior.[6]

In the year 2020, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria through the Nigerian Immigration Service issued a new Visa Policy (NVP 2020). The President during the launch of the NPV 2020 stated that

“The implementation of the Nigeria Visa Policy 2020 will support the attainment of a globally competitive economy for Nigeria by building on the efforts of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council. President Buhari said the policy will improve the business environment, attract Foreign Direct Investment and boost tourism without compromising national security…he Nigeria Visa Policy 2020 is intended to attract innovation, specialized skills and knowledge from abroad to complement locally available ones.’’ [7]

Hence, this article shall critically examine whether the NVP 2020 is indeed a new dimension within the Nigerian Immigration Law. This analysis shall be done vis-à-vis the Nigerian Visa Policy issued in 2012.  The first part of this article shall examine the historical background to Visa Policy and Regulation in Nigeria. This will show the extent of development in relation to Nigeria’s Visa Policies over the years. The second part of this article shall examine topical innovations, if any, of the NVP 2020 in relation to the earlier NVP of 2012.  The third part of this article shall outline the implications that the NVP 2020 has on the specific sectors of the economy such as Tourism, Trade and investment and National Security. This article shall round off with a conclusion and recommendations on any pitfall that is likely to be identified within the NPV 2020.

  • A Synoptic Historical Background to Visa Policy and Regulation in Nigeria

The regulation and adoption of Policies in relation to Immigration in Nigeria commenced with the history of the Nigerian Immigration Service being the major regulator of that sector.

The (NIS) initially started off as a department within the Nigerian Police Force (NPF). Hence, the policing duties of the NPF decided the tide of the Visa policies in Nigeria until 1958[8] when the Department was separated from the NPF. Since the Department became independent of the NPF in 1958 it has gone through several reforms and policies all seeking to make the Nigerian immigration service of international standard.

With the Department being independent and now being regarded as the Nigerian Immigration Service, the NIS has been able to cater for broad issues of immigration amongst which are the Border Patrol Management, the issuance of all kinds of travel documents such as Visa and International Passport, the establishment of the ECOWAS and African Affairs/Bilateral division amongst others.

Since1958, several Immigration Acts have been made which have all outlined the Nigerian Visa Policy differently. However, the current legal regime is under the Immigration Act of 2015.

At a press conference in 2017, the Honourable Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Rahman Dambazau (Rtd.), announced the release of the Immigration Regulations, 2017. The aim of the 2017 Regulation is to ensure the effective implementation of the 2015 Act as well the consolidation of existing Immigration Regulations in Nigeria.

Since 2017, the Nigeria immigration Service has succeeded in issuing issued several guidelines, regulations and policies in order to efficiently and effectively discharge its core duties. Some of the guidelines include the ECOWAS Residence Card and Travel Certificate Application Guidelines, Visa Application Guidelines, International Passport Application Guidelines and Immigration Facilities Handbook amongst others.

  • Topical Innovations of the Nigeria’s New Visa Policy of 2020 vis-à-vis Visa Policy of 2012

In January 2020, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria announced, through a Presidential Order, the making of a new Nigeria Visa Policy of 2020. The new policy was introduced in line with the government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan 2017 – 2020, which aims to remove the barriers that have historically inhibited innovation and economic development in the country. The announcement of this NVP has generated a lot of welcoming comments both within and outside Nigeria. Hence, this aspect of this article will analyze the topical innovations of the NVP especially in the light of its predecessor, the NVP 2012.

Generally, the NVP 2020 is an upward review of the NVP 2012 and some of those reviews are explored below:

  1. CATEGORIZATION AND THE EXPANSION OF THE CATEGORIES OF VISA FROM 6 TO 79

Under the NVP 2012, there was no definite categorization of visas. What that was applicable were classes of Visas. However, under the NVP 2020, we now have categories of Visa. These include; the Short Term Visa( STV) which has 28 classes, Temporary Residence Visa (TRV) which has 36 classes and Permanent Residence Visas (PRV) with 15 classes.  Although the STV was applicable under the old dispensation, the NVP has introduced new classes of STV such as Visa for tourism[9], study tour[10], academic exchange program[11], International Cultural Exchange Program[12], humanitarian services[13], relief/emergency works[14] and temporary work permits.[15] The implication therefore is that foreigners who are willing to come into Nigeria for any of these beneficial activities will be able to do so easily. This will no doubt aid National Development.

Before the introduction of the TRV, what that was applicable was the Expatriate Quota.[16]  The Expatriate Quota under the old dispensation did not cater for the minor dependents and spouses of the expatriates. However, under the NVP 2020, there is a class of Visa for these categories of persons.[17]

Also, under the old dispensation, the PRV was majorly applicable only to foreigners who are married to Nationals or who are investors who have imported an annual threshold of capital over a period of time as may be specified in the National Visa Policy.[18] However under the NVP 2020, PRV can be conferred not only on spouses of Nigerian citizens and investors who import an annual minimum threshold of capital[19], but also Nigerians by birth who have renounced their Nigerian citizenship[20], and their spouses[21], highly skilled individuals[22] and some classes of retirees.[23]

However, it should be noted that those conferred with PRV will still have to apply for Work Permit to be able to work as they are not allowed to work except those in the highly skilled Immigrants class within that category.

Also, there is a Visa Free/ Exemption Category for countries whose citizens do not need Visas to enter Nigeria. There have always been exemptions for some countries under the NVP 2012. For Instance, citizens of ECOWAS member states are not required to obtain Nigerian Visa to enter Nigeria based on the ECOWAS Free Movement Protocol.  The NVP 2020 Policy has retained this exemption and specified 14 ECOWAS Member States, and added other exemptions that include 2 other African Countries which have Visa Abolition Agreement with Nigeria (Chad and Cameroon), Visa Waiver for 4 International Organizations (United Nations Organizations (UNO), African Union Commission (AUC), ECOWAS Commission and African Development Bank) and 13 other countries of the world who have Reciprocity Visa Waiver Agreement with Nigeria (Brazil, Venezuela, Kenya, China, Cuba, Sudan, Namibia, South Africa, Mauritius, Singapore, Turkey, Tanzania and Rwanda holding diplomatic and/or official passport) based on bilateral/multilateral agreements on the principle of reciprocity.[24] Of course, all the persons wishing to enter on this exemption must abide by and observe all entry conditions as set by the Nigeria Immigration Service. Visa-free entry is valid for a maximum of 90 days and not valid for employment purposes.

  1. CREATION OF ADDITIONAL VISA APPLICATION CHANNELS

The NVP 2012 created and recognized Visit at Embassies as the only way for foreigners to process and obtain Nigerian Visas. However, the NVP 2020 has built on this and added two more which include the Visa on Arrival and the Electronic Visa (e-Visa).

  • Visa on Arrival

This Visa on Arrival process qualifies a foreigner from an African Union country with an African Union Passport, on a short visit to Nigeria, to process and obtain his/her visa on arrival at the airport in Nigeria. It applies to only 4 classes of Short Term Visas. However, foreigners that are not from AU Countries can obtain Visa on Arrival only for Tourism purposes. This is the most popular development of the NVP 2020. This part of the policy is also backed by the provision of S.20 Immigration Act, 2015 which provides that:

“…the Comptroller General of Immigration shall authorize the issuance of Short Visit Visas at the point of entry…”

Section 9 of the Immigration Regulation 2017 also provides that

 “Upon application in the prescribed manner, the Comptroller-General may approve the issuance of visa on arrival in respect of any person and such person shall be allowed entry through the designated port.”

Thus, the visa on arrival is not an entirely new creation/provision but this is the first of its inclusion in a policy to ensure implementation.

It is worthy of note that the specific inclusion of African Union passport holders into the revamped Visa on Arrival policy is an indication of the willingness and commitment of Nigeria to the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) treaty and an attempt to further encourage ease of doing business.[1]

  • Electronic Visa (E-Visa)

Similar to the Visa on Arrival, the e-Visa process is available for visa applications in the Short Visit Visa Category for foreigners who wish to visit the country for not more than 3 months. However, unlike the Visa on Arrival, it is applied for online on the Immigration Service Website and requires online pre-approval (Travel Authorization Letter) which is sent to the applicant at least 48 hours before the visitor gets to the point of entry.

  • Visit at the Embassy

The 2020 policy retained this application channel from the 2012 policy and states that all classes of visa (including those eligible for Visa on Arrival and e-Visa) can be applied for through this means by visiting Nigeria Embassies and authorized Visa Application Centres which will be responsible for the collection and submission of visa applications on behalf of applicants to the Nigerian Embassy for processing and approval.

  1. CREATION OF SPECIAL VISA FOR NIGERIANS IN DIASPORA

A new visa class is created for Nigerians in Diaspora by birth who have dual citizenship and would not normally have Nigeria visas on their passports (of other nations) when visiting Nigeria. With this new policy, they will now be issued with an indefinite resident and multiple Visa to enable them visit Nigeria whenever they wish. It also provides for Nigerians by birth who renounced their Nigerian citizenship because their naturalized countries do not accept dual citizenship. This class of Visa also exists for the spouses of such Nigerians.

  • The Implications of NPV 2020 on Specific Sectors of the Nigerian Economy/Society

Flowing from the innovative provisions which the NVP 2020 has introduced into the Nigerian Immigration law, these [provisions will have certain implications on the various sectors of the Nigerian Economy and society with their antecedent legal regimes. This part of this article will succinctly outline and discuss these implications.

  • Implications on the Nigerian Trade and Investment Sector-

The Nigerian Trade and Investment sector currently operates under the Industrial Inspector Act and the Nigerian Investment Promotion Act amongst others. The legal regime provides for several incentives to attract foreigners to make investment in Nigeria.  The emergence of the NVP 2020 has consolidated theses incentives and indeed, expanded on it. As discussed above, the expansion of the scope of the expatriate quota system to include the spouses and dependents of the expatriate are part of these incentives. More so, the introduction of more classes of investors to include Medium Enterprises is an initiative that will greatly contribute to investment in Nigeria. Better investment opportunities mean more influx of investors

Also, the introduction of technology exchange visa will further aid the development of technology in Nigeria. The Industrial Division of the Trade and Investment Sector will be further integrated. More investments in relation to industrial productions can be made and those already made can take advantage of this opportunity to further develop their production. The resultant effects of all these will be an improvement in the Nigerian economy through Nigeria’s Balance of Payment.

However, even though the above implications are possible positive effects on the Nigerian Trade and Investment sector, the major hurdle to cross will be that of regulators. Before the NVP 2020, several regulators have been charged with duties incidental to certain issues. For instance, the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Purchase has been charged with the duty of regulating the acquisition and transfer of Technology; the NIPC also regulates the offering of incentives to foreign and local investors. How then can the NVP 2020 address issues having multi-regulators especially when the NVP 2020 being a policy, is merely meant to further the aspirations of its parent Act, the Immigration Act 2015? The answer to this is not far-fetched. Before the making of the NVP 2020, the issue of multi-regulators had been somewhat resolved using the mechanism of the One-Stop Investment Centre (OSIC) established under the NIPC. With the OSIC, all regulators whose roles bear on investment are put in one place. In fact, the presence of the OSIC has been regarded as an incentive.

  • Implications on Tourism-

One of the relatively underutilized sectors of the Nigerian economy is tourism. While countries like Kenya and Ethiopia thrive more in terms of tourism, Nigeria hardly places any relevance on this sector even though Nigeria houses a lot of tourist attractions of international recognition and relevance. However, it seems that with the introduction of Visa for tourism coupled with the rather easy way of applying for such a Visa under the dispensation of the NVP 2020, the influx of tourists into the country will be aided. The resultant effect of the economy too.

Of course, since the issue of tourism is within the ambit of the National Assembly, there will be no issue of conflict of legal regime.[26]

  • Implications on National Security and Safety

National Security has been a pivotal issue upon which several fundamental individual rights have been abrogated. It is as fundamental as the existence of the State itself and it is against this background that most countries of the world often jealously guard their national security. However, it seems with the NVP 2020, the Nigerian National Security and Safety will become porous. This is because there will more influx of foreigners, those with genuine and legitimate concerns and those with illegitimate concerns. More insurgents and terrorists can obtain Visas easily; Nigerians’ Public Health may be in jeopardy, especially with the outbreak of airborne viruses which Nigeria has not really developed advanced resistance to or prevention for.

Interestingly however, there have been attempts/efforts within the framework of the NVP itself that are geared towards the protection of National Security and Safety. The authorities have efficiently put in place a technological hub, called the Migrants Information and Data Analysis (MIDAS) to ensure strict compliance with the conditions for the issuance of the visa.[27]  The MIDAS is a high-quality, affordable system that can collect, process and record information for the purpose of identification of travelers, data collection and analysis[28]. This technology would allow the authorities to control the influx of foreigners of undesirable elements and address the security concerns of people.

MIDAS installation has already been deployed at fourteen (14) land borders and two (2) seaports and four International Airports across the country[29] and would enable Nigeria to adequately monitor the migration of people over and across the air, sea and land, to ensure that those crossing Nigerian borders do not pose threats to national and international security.

Also, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports that the MIDAS would enable synchronization of real-time data between the airports and the Nigeria Immigration Service Headquarters in Abuja to effectively monitor migration of people, while automatically flagging and reporting travel document and individuals linked to transnational organized crime to INTERPOL.[30]

  • Implications on Economic Planning and Policies

In the long run, the NVP 2020 will likely lead to over-population in Nigeria because more influx of foreigners howbeit for a short period will lead to the presence of more persons in Nigeria especially as Nigeria currently ranks as the most populous country in Africa. It is expected that African Countries and others that will benefit from the Visa Exemption Programme under the NVP 2020 will utilize same.

The direct consequence of the above will be more population and fewer resources, except there is development of a consequential and remedial economic policy.

  • Implications on Education Sector

Through the Educational and Cultural Exchange Programme being included in the NVP 2020, it is believed that this will aid the development of the Nigerian Educational and Social System. They will be given international outlook and be able to receive students from neighboring countries and even from more advanced countries who may want to come into Nigeria for an exchange programme.

  • Implications on Nigerian Foreign Policy and International Obligations

The Visa exemption programme under the NVP 2020 may not be compatible with Nigeria’s obligation in International Economic Law, especially the newly signed African Continental Free Trade Agreement.[31]This is because international economic laws and indeed the AfCFTAA, uphold the Most-Favoured Nation Principles (MFN) which require Nigeria not to favour some countries through its national policies while denying some other WTO or AfCFTAA members the same privilege unconditionally and immediately.[32]

The AfCFTAA seeks to liberalize trade in all African Countries. Thus, Nigeria adopting a Visa Exemption Scheme for certain African Countries and some non-African Countries without extending same immediately and unconditionally to other countries may be an infraction of this obligation.  This is especially so when one considers the fact the NVP 2020 came into operation after Nigeria signed the AfCFTAA in 2019.

  • CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

In conclusion, the NVP 2020 is a welcome development and indeed a new dimension to Nigeria’s Visa Policy. It is believed that it will contribute richly to Nigeria’s Immigration Law as it has far-reaching developments on the NVP 2012 especially in the light of modern realities. However, the NVP 2020 also has some implications and shortcomings in relations to the various sectors of the Nigerian Economy and Society. In this regard, the following recommendations are made:

  1. Efficient implementation of the NVP 2020 so that it will not just exist on paper;
  2. Strong liaison between the Nigerian Immigration Service and other regulators having a concern in the NVP 2020 provisions;
  3. Continuous and more effective implementation of the MIDAS;
  4. Adoption of an advanced Border Management Technique to checkmate the incursion of terrorists and persons with viruses having implications public health;
  5. The adoption of virtual customer service system to address complaints when accessing the e-visa portal;
  6. Extension of the Visa Exemption scheme and diplomatic handshakes should be extended from other countries on the basis of reciprocity.

These recommendations, if adopted and effectively utilized, will help develop the Nigerian Immigration Sector, specifically and the Nigerian Society at large.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Most especially, Foreign Direct Investments( FDI)

[2] 380 F. Supp. 1162 (NY, 1974).

[3] 558 F. Supp. 2d 1140 (2008).

[4] See, Item 30, Part 1, 2nd Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended.

[5] Immigration Act, 2015.

[6] Section 1 of the Immigration Act 2015.

[7] Retrieved from https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/375685-buhari-unveils-nigerias-new-visa-policy.html on 18th February, 2020..

[8] By the operation of the Immigration Ordinance of 1958.

[9] See Form F5A

[10]

[11] Form F7H

[12] Form F7I

[13] Form F7J

[14] Form F7K

[15] Form F8A

[16] See sections 8, and 38 of the Immigration Act 2015.

[17] See Forms  R2B,R2C and R2D

[18] Section 37(11) of the Immigration Act 2015

[19] In fact, several categories have been made in relation to Investors. For instance, Medium Enterprise Investors as in Form N3A,  Large Corporations as in N3B and Ultra-Large Investors as in Form N3D.

[20] See, Form N2A

[21] Form N2B

[22] Form N4A

[23] Form N5A

[24]Page 11, Nigeria Visa Policy, 2020

[25]Retrieved from: https://www.mondaq.com/Nigeria/Immigration/893522/An-Overview-Of-The-Nigeria-Visa-Policy-NVP-2020  on the 19th day of February, 2020.

[26] See, the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) Act Cap N137, LFN 2004, which establishes the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation.

[27]This is according to the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigrations Service (NIS), Muhammad Babandede in a technical presentation. Retrieved from:https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/375685-buhari-unveils-nigerias-new-visa-policy.html on the 18th day of February, 2020.

[28]https://www.iom.int/migration-data-management-intelligence-and-risk-analysis. Accessed 19-02-2020

[29]https://leadership.ng/2019/11/13/insecurity-immigration-deploys-data-analysis-system-at-abuja-airport/ accessed 18-02-2020

[30]https://nairametrics.com/2019/11/16/nis-partners-iom-as-nigeria-launches-migration-information-and-data-analysis-system/ accessed 18-02-2020

[31]AfCFTAA

[32] See Appellate Body Report of the World Trade Organization in EC – Seal Products, para. 5.86 (quoting Appellate Body Report, EC – Tariff Preferences, para. 101). Se also, Appellate Body Report, Canada – Autos, para. 84.

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