US Embassy Blocks Visa Interview Dates In Nigeria Until Further Notice
Nigerians applying for visas to the United States are currently in a fix as they cannot seem to get appointment dates for interviews, The PUNCH understands.
This is despite the payment of visa fees and other charges which range from N58,000 to N200,000. The United States Embassy has yet to respond to our enquiries.
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According to reports,it was learnt that despite the claims of the US Embassy in Nigeria that there are no available dates, travel agents were selling appointment slots to desperate applicants. The agents, it was learnt, charge between N60,000 and N100,000, depending on one’s bargaining skills and the preferred date of interview. A senior employee of an Abuja-based NGO identified only as Mike, said he faced a similar challenge when he applied for US visa for himself and his four children in order to travel to the US before the end of the summer holiday. He added, “After making our payments, we just couldn’t find interview dates for Abuja. I thought it was a glitch and kept coming back to the page without any luck. I voiced my concern to a friend who, in turn, put me in touch with a US embassy official. The official told me the interview dates were handled by a third party service provider, but he put me in touch with someone who worked for the supposed third party affiliate. I was charged N50,000 per application, which cost me a total of N300,000 before we got interview slots barely a week after submitting our applications. A businesswoman, who identified herself only as Odunayo, said she applied in Lagos through a travel agent and when it came to selecting interview dates, the page displayed a “no available dates” notice. It was the first time the agent had come across such a message and it was confusing. My agent spoke to US consulate contacts who advised that he could procure an interview slot. The cost for that slot was fixed around 70,000.” Another visa applicant, Helen, who works for a Pension Fund Administrator in Abuja, said she filled out a US visa renewal application without any issues until it got to when she had to schedule an interview date. It stated that no dates were available. I kept trying until I got a message saying I’d exhausted the maximum number of attempts. I tried the following day without success and it went on that way for three days. As it is, I can’t schedule an interview at the US embassy in Abuja, as the option is simply unavailable,” Helen lamented.
The rush for appointments, it was learnt, got worse in recent times because the US changed its policy on drop box. The United States Embassy in Nigeria had in May announced stiffer and stricter visa application processes for Nigerians. It said at the time that all applicants including frequent travellers, who used to use the drop box method, will now have to appear for interviews each time they apply. It, however, said diplomatic and government officials could continue to enjoy the status quo. The statement read in part, “Effective at the close of business today, Tuesday, May 14, 2019, the US Mission to Nigeria is indefinitely suspending interview waivers for renewals, otherwise known as the ‘Drop box’ process. Visa applications will no longer be accepted by DHL in Nigeria. Those who have already submitted their passports via drop box to DHL for processing either at the US Embassy in Abuja, or the Consulate General in Lagos, will not be impacted by this change. All applicants in Nigeria seeking a non-immigrant visa to the United States must apply online, and will be required to appear in-person at the US Embassy in Abuja or US Consulate General in Lagos to submit their application for review. Applicants must appear at the location they specified when applying for the visa renewal. The spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ferdinand Nwonye, told this newspaper that the US embassy was American territory and that he could not do anything about its visa appointments. Nwonye said, “What do you think I should do? Do I work in the American embassy? How can you go to the American embassy and they will tell you about appointments and you come to start asking me? Do I work in the American embassy? The US embassy in Nigeria has come under intense criticism in recent time for its high rate of visa refusal of Nigerians especially those applying for student visas. Although the embassy claims it is not happy denying Nigerians visas, last year the US denied hundreds of Nigerians visas on a daily basis and it was also reported how the embassy generates N57m from Nigerians daily. Following the report, the House of Representatives launched a probe into the matter in late 2018 but it was later cancelled. A response was still being expected from the US embassy when the story was filed on Tuesday afternoon.