US president Joe Biden’s quest for a de-Trumpification of US policies started at a fast pace, with the new president signing 25 executive orders a few hours after his inauguration. One of them was to reverse the “Muslim ban“, which served as great news for Nigerians.
Last February, then president Trump added Nigeria to an expanded list of visa bans which was initially just Muslim-majority countries. Nigerians were prevented from being able to apply for permanent immigrant visas to the US. This stopped family and spousal reunion, and skill-based immigrants and the firms that needed them were also dealt a blow.
While Biden’s move is a victory for “family reunification” and the other affected quarters, it’s still a long shot to unpick the US immigration policy of its particular stance with Nigeria given the several stringent bureaucratic measures and restrictions put in place by the Trump administration, says Nneka Achapu, founder of African Public Affairs Committee (AfriPAC), a non-partisan political group advocating for policies that empower the African diaspora.
Even before the immigrant visa ban there had been a gradual tightening of rules under the Trump administration which seemed to disproportionately impact the country’s with world’s largest Black population. It included national reprisals for visitor visa overstays and student visa restrictions to raising visa application fees and making it more difficult for regular visitors to renew their visas in Lagos.
These collectively led to Nigeria having the biggest drop-off in visitors to the US in 2019 and advocates don’t think the Biden administration will be able to easily reverse some of the more specific measures taken and the new administration may not be inclined to do so.
“The reversal doesn’t address the increased scrutiny faced by Black immigrants as a whole; the extreme vetting processes, and surveillance of those wanting to migrate to the United States,” says Achapu. “It doesn’t address the previous administration policy of anti-Blackness and anti-immigrant sentiment that you can see for example in the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program policies in which Nigeria is still currently not eligible to participate.”
A number of Trump’s anti-immigration procedures that make processing visa applications more onerous includes indefinite suspension of visa interview waiver for Nigerian applicants, increase in visa fees charged to Nigerians.
“The strict measures implemented by Trump made things difficult,” Victor Tamuno, a Lagos-based travel agent explained to Africa. Tamuno said he has had several “overqualified” clients with varying purposes, from schooling to short vacations, denied visas.
“At a point, you won’t know who they’d give a visa to. They just denied people for little or no reason, and those things are still there,” he lamented, even as proceedings for permanent migration had started at the US Consulate in Lagos.
On the back of Trump’s travel ban on Nigeria, advocacy groups and political analysts bemoaned Nigeria’s lack of political clout and representation in US politics, which was incomparable to its lofty interest in academic and economic activities.
With the Muslim ban lifted, Biden’s administration has set the pace in easing anti-immigration policies, however, the complexity of the US immigration laws and policies might prove a hindrance, notes Ope Badaru, a Nigerian-American immigration attorney in Houston, Texas. For example, anti-immigration policies or laws not explicitly targeting Nigerians would be difficult to repeal.
“In reviewing laws and policies for discrimination, we often review them to see whether they are discriminatory on the face of the law or policy or whether they are not discriminatory on their face but have a discriminatory intent,” says Badaru, whose practice was largely impacted by the travel ban.
“There are often reasons given for these policies (which may not affect Nigerians alone) and there is also consular discretion in practice which allows administrative officers to decide one way or the other based on facts before them.”
On paper Biden’s Immigration bill is aimed at restoring “humanity and American values to our immigration system”. He’ll be hoping it garners bipartisan support, which would ease a lot of Trump’s anti-immigration policies.
However, outright change is unlikely to come easy, but Tamuno, like Badaru, is hopeful Biden’s moves continue to ease Nigeria. “We are still hopeful that most of those [policies] would be relaxed,” he says.
Sign up to the Africa Weekly Brief here for news and analysis on African business, tech, and innovation in your inbox