President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday officially commissioned the new Nigeria Visa Policy (NVP) 2020 intended to attract innovation, specialised skills and knowledge from abroad to complement local capacity.
The enhanced visa policy by Nigeria, one of Africa’s key economies, came on the back of the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA), a treaty seeking to establish a continent-wide marketplace with increased trade and freer movement among its major economic powers.
Officials say the objective of the reforms that have birthed the NVP 2020 is to strengthen Nigeria’s position as a key economy in Africa by attracting more Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) into the country’s economy which would in turn provide jobs for the people and lift the nation’s teeming population out of poverty in line with the vision of President Muhammadu Buhari to take 100million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years.
In his remarks at the public presentation of the new policy, the president said the implementation would support the attainment of a globally competitive economy for Nigeria by building on the efforts of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council.
According to him, the policy will improve the business environment, attract FDIs and boost tourism without compromising national security.
“Earlier in the course of this administration, we introduced the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (2017-2020) with one of the objectives being to minimise bottlenecks which impede innovation and market-based solutions for building an inclusive economy.
“The Nigeria Visa Policy 2020 is intended to attract innovation, specialised skills and knowledge from abroad to complement locally available ones,’’ he said.
According to Buhari, the new visa policy provides an avenue to achieve African integration by the introduction of visas on arrival for short visits to Nigeria for holders of passports of African Union (AU) countries.
“I therefore commend the document to the international community, foreign and local business entities. We are open for business,’’ he said.
The Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, said the visa policy took into consideration specific needs of foreigners who would want to visit the country, without compromising the security of the country.
He added that the policy had followed a process that considered the security, economy and territorial integrity of the country, and would only be issued after due diligence with other security components of the country.
“The new visa policy will be helpful, especially to diaspora Nigerians by birth who can now use other passports to visit the country because some countries do not allow dual citizenship,’’ he added.
On the alleged sudden influx of foreigners into the country, Aregbesola explained that the development was made easy by the ECOWAS treaty which allows all citizens with valid travel documents to come to Nigeria and stay for a certain period of time.
“So, to say we are not up to our responsibility in managing them might not be really honest. And don’t forget that for the past six months, there was a moratorium, an amnesty given to all foreigners to register themselves with the government.
“The amnesty ended on the 12th of last month and we are still registering anyway. That is to tell you that for ECOWAS citizens, the treaty allows them to be here for a specified period of time.”
In a technical presentation, the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Muhammad Babandede, said the service had already put in place a technological hub called the Migrants Information and Data Analysis (MIDAS) to ensure strict compliance with the conditions for the issuance of the visa.
Babandede assured the nation that issues of corruption or bribery would be controlled by the automated system, while allaying the fear of possible infiltration of the economy by criminals and terrorists.
According to him, the new policy has 79 categories, which include health, education and tourism. He said that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Interpol also made inputs into the system, and would be carried along in the processing before approvals.
Also on the influx of foreigners into the country, the immigration boss said that certain procedures permitted different categories of persons to enter and stay in the country for a period of time.
His words: “The first class is ECOWAS citizens. ECOWAS citizens can enter without visa but on a condition that they must enter through approved and recognised ports of entry and with travel documents. On arrival, their documents will be endorsed for 90 days. That is why we say they cannot enter in the night but from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
“The second category consists of African citizens with African passport, from any part of the world. You can travel to Abuja, for example, and you will be issued visa at the port of entry. We have explained that visa at point of entry is stronger than those you get at the missions because we have only 18 biometric issuing centres in the world.
“The third category consists of frequent business travellers, while those in the fourth category are those who want to take residence, either temporary or long term. In that case, you have to go to the embassy to get the visa.
“On the complaints about the number of foreigners in Nigeria, I want you to consider the number of Nigerians outside also.
“Nigeria must export its labour in the next decade, we are going to be the most populous nation in the world. If you know the number of Nigerians in other ECOWAS countries, you will not develop hatred for migrants.
“As long as they live legally and do their jobs correctly, we should consider there are Nigerians elsewhere. It is important for us to know this.”
In a reaction to the launch of the new visa policy, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) said the revised version unveiled by the Federal Government would aid economic integration.
The chamber’s Director-General, Dr. Muda Yusuf, said the LCCI believed the policy would help facilitate trade and investment in the country, advising that individuals should be subjected to rigorous processes and screening before departure from the affected countries.
According to him, there is the need for concerned agencies to create a mechanism so that the policy will not expose the country to further security risks.
He also urged that the policy should be extended to countries that have potential to attract the kind of investments that the country needs.
“We should also liberalise visa requirements for citizens of advanced economies to facilitate the inflow of foreign capital,” he suggested.