The U.S. Mission in Nigeria on Tuesday launched a new visa application procedure aimed at expanding services to assist non-immigrant visa applicants in the country to qualify to renew their visas.
The No-Interview Visa Renewals process, a pilot project, was launched at the U.S. Consular section in Lagos and is expected to be extended to Abuja “shortly.”
Susan Tuller, the U.S. Mission Consular Coordinator, said the programme is targeted specifically at students and tourist visas and some work visas that the mission is able to process in Nigeria.
“The pilot programme specifically will significantly increase the opportunities that Nigerians will have to apply to renew a visa if they’ve already been issued a US visa in the past and they meet the criteria for eligibility,” Ms Tuller said at a press conference in Lagos.
“And this programme is one of our continuing efforts that we’ve been making for the past year since we were closed for a short period at the beginning of the pandemic to increase the consular services that we provide to both Nigerians and Americans living in Nigeria despite the ongoing challenges that we continue to face as a result of the pandemic.
“The good news is that our consular sections in Lagos and Abuja have been fully opened for services for over a year now and we’ve been able to provide the full range of services for both Nigerians and Americans for those seeking to go to the US on tourist travel or immigrate to the US.
“We know that it’s still extremely difficult to get a visa appointment, either at the Consular section here in Lagos or the Consular section in Abuja.
“And the intent of the new programme is to allow us to increase our services for people seeking to travel to the US for tourism or some types of work or to study while still being able to provide the services that we have to provide to Americans living in Nigeria, like renewing passports and obtaining birth certificates for their children and the services that we need to provide to Nigerians who want to immigrate to the United States to reunite with family.”
The new procedure has some similarities and differences with the dropbox facility, the earlier method that equally eliminated in-person interviews for visa applicants. The dropbox method was suspended in 2019.
“Why was it suspended? When’s it coming back? And I know there will be lots of questions about our new programme and whether it’s the same programme just being restarted. So let me start by just explaining how the US government looks at visa policies and programmes,” said Ms Tuller.
“One of the things that the US government as a whole and the individual consulates and embassies abroad look at when we’re talking about your visa policies and programmes are two things: one, does the visa policy or programme allow us to make sure that we’re protecting US border security, which is our highest priority and that is it helping us facilitate legitimate travel to the United States?
“So when it comes to interview waiver programmes, one of the things we found with the programme we had or suspended in 2019 was that it didn’t help with either of those things. We found that there was a lot of fraud in the applications that were coming in through our interview waiver process. And we also found a very high overstay rate of people who got issued visas through that programme and then travelled to the United States, even though they had already been issued visas in the past.”
Ms Tuller said they also found that the dropbox method didn’t help with their overall productivity or efficiency or customer service as Consular officers were still calling over 50 per cent of the people who applied through that programme in for interviews.
“Even though they had already met certain eligibility criteria that would allow them not to have an interview. But there were so many questions in the applications that we received that we’re hauling quite a few people in which was not good for customer service and it was not good for our productivity.”