I read the investigative report of Samson Folarin in The PUNCH on “Visa-seeking Nigerian students lament sad experience at US embassy”. The major complaint is the refusal of student visa for a majority of applicants who also paid Sevis fees to the Homeland Security Department which was for international students enrolled in universities in the United States. They actually think that there is a plot to stop Nigerian students from travelling to the US.
I want to express my opinion on the matter.
My company has been involved in students’ application and enrolment into universities in the US since 1997. At that time, most of the applicants were from the King’s College and Queen’s College in Lagos. This was because these secondary schools knew a lot about education in the US based on information from the American embassy which required sitting for admission examination of SAT and TOEFL, similar to the GCE for admission to universities in the United Kingdom. The level of scores of these examinations determines admission and scholarship. At that period, all the applicants not only got admission but also scholarships because of the high quality performance of the federal and Lagos State secondary schools at then. The embassy even used to go to the schools to encourage them to apply to universities in the US, so visa approval was not a problem. Nigerian universities also encouraged their graduates to go for postgraduate studies in the US and those who applied for visas were always given.
The US embassy, however, had an annual number of the student visas to be given, which gradually rose from 1,000 at that time to about 2,000 presently.
The major problem that has led to many students being refused visa is because of the huge number of applicants which arose from the declining quality of public universities in Nigeria. Not only that, federal universities have state quotas, such that many brilliant students in some states do not get admission for the academic courses they want to do. Examples are medicine, engineering and accountancy, which explains why their parents decide on international education.
Besides, interviews at the embassy for the students are based on the problems the embassy staff see of our country, the first is poverty which makes them to give preference to student applicants who have full and tuition scholarships so that they would not have any financial problem. For undergraduate and postgraduate students, those without scholarship are required to show evidence that their sponsors can finance them.
Sometimes, they request the bank statements of their sponsors and send such to the bank for verification and many of the statements are false which makes them deny visa approval. The current government in the US is still very interested in enrolling Nigerian students that have high intelligence and the embassy has a section called Education USA where prospective students who visit the section are advised that they should apply to many schools to get admission and scholarship, which is why they sometimes ask for documents of the schools they applied to. They believe that those who apply to just one school may be Nigerians who have families in the US who just want them to enter the country not necessarily for academics.
The consular department does not recognise educational business companies and institutions as the basis for approval of visa interview. All the institutions need to do is ensure that all the documents of the students are valid and should teach them how to answer the questions.
Another major complaint is that the US embassy is basically making money by refusing the applicants visa with a high visa fee of N57,600 which is now N59,200. Incidentally, the US visa fee in dollars has been the same for many years; it is only our exchange rate that has been rising continuously. Apart from this, the US requires its students to go for exchange programmes outside their country. In the past, many of our universities were receiving exchange students that brought in an average of $5,000.00 which is about N1.8m but this has closed because of the insecurity of our country, The number of American students in the US is more than 20 million and not less than one million go to outside countries for exchange programmes. If our country were safe, we would have about 10,000 students coming for exchange programmes because of the large number of black universities. This would give us about $50m which would be more money than the US embassy fees paid by Nigerians.
So, the problem is our country and not the US embassy.
- B.O. Omotosho, Ikeja, Lagos