Visa fees high for Americans despite FG’s reduction – Punch investigation

Americans seeking visa to visit Nigeria will continue to pay high visa fees despite the reduction announced by Nigeria’s Ministry of Interior Affairs on Wednesday.

According to investigations, while Nigerians currently pay at least $160 for US visas, Americans are charged a minimum of $180 and an extra $100 for visa processing by visa service facilitation firms, amounting to $280 per applicant.

Findings showed that two Nigerian firms, Online Integrated Services and Thebez Global Resources, had been generating windfall earning of at least $100 per visa application.

An agent of TGR in New York informed our correspondent on Friday that the firm charged $90 for processing a Nigerian visa, adding that this was not affected by the visa fee reduction announced by Ministry of Interior.

He explained that the fee charged by his organisation was different from the visa charges paid to the government coffers.

The agent said, “American citizens applying for Nigerian visas usually pay $180 visa fee, but they would also pay additional $90 to us for facilitation of their application. Our firm just took over the responsibility about two months ago.”

TGR which also has offices in Houston, had been licensed by National Identity Management Commission to enrol eligible Nigerians in the Diaspora in the National Identity Database.

The firm has set up registration desks in Mumbai, India; Pretoria, South Africa; Toronto and Ottawa, Canada and three other cities. It charged $50 for registration of adults and $40 for minors.

Similarly, OIS claimed to be the exclusive service provider for the Federal Government of Nigeria authorised to accept visa applications in Atlanta, Washington, New Jersey, Houston and Los Angeles.

Findings showed that the firm charged $100 processing fee per applicant in the form of a money order, but the fee for expedited service was pegged at $165.

For ‘subject to regularisation’ visa, the processing fee is $223 per applicant while a request for expedited service would attract $288. All payments are non-refundable, it was gathered.

The firm could not be reached for comment as calls to its listed US numbers rang out.

United States had stated that its decision to invoke the diplomatic principle of reciprocity in respect of visa fees was informed by the disparity between fees paid by Americans and Nigerians.

The US Mission in Nigeria did not engage a VSF firm and Nigerians applying for American visas did not have to pay facilitation fees.

Sources in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Federal Government failed to respond to the US complaints over the disparity in visa fees because influential individuals linked to the two firms believed a reduction may affect their revenue.

A senior official in the ministry said, “Though the committee set up to look into the US complaints concluded its assignment months ago, powerful individuals with vested interests constrained officials from implementing the recommendations until the US government embarrassed the Federal Government with the reciprocity visa charges.”

The official, however, alleged that the American government was ripping off Nigerians, noting that the embassy made about N8m daily from visa fees.

He stated, “The US is making close to N8m daily on visa fees in Nigeria. There are some countries where you only pay visa fees when your application is granted. There is presently no interview date for US visa applicants and if 1,000 persons applied, maybe just 10 per cent of them would get visas. So, what about the rest that have paid?”

With the reduction in visa charges by the Federal Government, it was not clear if the VSF firms would be compelled to also revise their service charges.

Nigeria Immigration Service spokesman, Mr Sunday James, failed to respond to inquiries on this on Friday.

Also, Interior ministry spokesman, Mr Mohammed Manga, did not respond to several calls to his phone. He had yet to reply an SMS sent to him in respect of the processing charges.

Meanwhile, the US Embassy has said that the reciprocity fees will remain in place until it received official diplomatic communication from Nigeria.

It said, “The US Embassy looks forward to receiving official diplomatic communication regarding a new fee schedule for Americans seeking Nigerian visas. Until such time, and confirmation of implementation, the reciprocity fees for approved visas to the United States will remain in place.”

 

Punch

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