Recently, the missus and I attended a B1/B2 visa interview at the US Consulate in Lagos. While we are not unfamiliar with visiting the Consulate, it had been 10 years since we attended a US visa interview. We’ve always used the visa waiver programme or “drop box.” Until Nigeria’s village people went to work.
Turns out that in 2016, per widely acknowledged reports like this, 12,043 Nigerians overstayed their US non-immigrant visa.
In 2017, the number rose to 19,676 people.
In 2018, the number strapped on booster rockets and soared to 30,000.
That’s close to 62,000 Nigerians who decided not to come back to Nigeriana. Clearly, all these folks were loving it in the US like a Big Mac.
Also, between 2017 and 2018, Canadian authorities reportedly intercepted 7,600 Nigerian asylum seekers at its unofficial land borders. Over 6,000 of them had valid US non-immigrant visas.
The US had become a jumping-off point for Nigerians seeking a better life in Canada.
Canada was pissed.
Department of Homeland Security was pissed.
Donald Trump was pissed.
All these pissings snowballed into the US Embassy in Nigeria suspending the dropbox programme indefinitely in 2019. Everyone now had to attend the disquieting US visa interview. The denial rate was said to be in the ninety percentile. I know people who travel to the US often but who were still refused a B1/B2 renewal.
But Nigeria’s mother’s head was not sleeping in heaven. She fought Nigeria’s village people till President Joe Biden won the US elections in 2020. The mood of the Biden administration towards immigration and travel became more obliging. Dropbox was reinstated in 2021.
But not soon enough for me and the missus to qualify. We were a few days behind eligibility. So, it was the interview for us.
Now, let me state clearly that I am very displeased attending a visa interview. I should never have been born Nigerian. My agreement with destiny was to be born in America. Say on a Hawaiian beach sipping a cold Virgin Mojito, looking into the sunset while they cut the umbilical cord. Destiny and I shook hands on it. But a man’s enemy is often a member of his household, and you need not look further than my great, great, great grandfather.
See, while many West Africans were merrily signing up to be slaves in the New World, my great, great, great grandfather ran from the slave traders. For several years, this dude was as uncatchable as Frank Abagnale. There were several close calls, but somehow, this fella always managed to escape the clutch of liberation.
I don’t get it. This dude had nothing going for him in his village. No wife, no kids, no Wi-Fi, no Netflix. And he’s never been on a cruise ship. Why on earth was he running away?
But it gets worse. The geezer was eventually captured and taken to Charleston, South Carolina.
But while paraded on the dock, this impossible fella jumped into the water and swam back to Nigeria!
Unbelievable! The prat!
This dude swam through a smack of box jellyfish, a frenzy of hungry great whites, fought the Kraken, and breaststroked all the way to Lagos! One night he even snuck aboard a slave ship, purloined their food and jumped back into the water and continued swimming to Lagos. breaststroke, butterfly, backstroke. He swam night and day till he arrived in Lagos. When he got back to his village, there was much feasting and celebration. He was made king. He married eighty wives and sired eight hundred children.
And here I am two hundred years later attending a visa interview.
I’ve moved on and not flogging the issue. But Proverbs 13:22 is very clear: “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children…” What inheritance did this bloke leave me? A green passport and failing national grid.
But I digress. Back to our US visa interview.
While you may have been to the US many times and have strong ties to Nigeria, a favorable outcome in a B1/B2 interview is far from certain. This makes the issuance of a US visa highly prized. Unlike the UK and Schengen visas that we have seen finish. In fact, if I am refused a UK or Schengen visa, I’ll demand to speak to Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron. What nerve!
But the missus and I were confident. What’s the worst that can happen? We get denied the visa and plump for Papua New Guinea. If Uncle Sam is unobliging, we’ll turn to Aunt Lilibet.
The Consular Officer who interviewed us was courteous and pleasant. She and the missus found a point of connection in a book my wife had and on their respective birthdays. Her inquiries were conversational. She gave us new information about ineligible reasons to travel to the US. Folks can no longer travel to the US for the sole purpose of giving birth. She was just saying.
Does she know something I don’t? Mrs. Alade, you can’t be preg?… If you are, I’m not the father!
Anyways, she approved our visas and wished us a wonderful trip.
Sorry, Aunt Lilibet. Gumbo and jambalaya calls.
Actually, the three Consular Officers who interviewed people on the day were courteous and pleasant. They were chopping it up and being reciprocally nice. No pre-determined agenda.
Now, to the unpleasant part of the interview experience.
It seemed everywhere you go in Lagos; you can’t escape guards soliciting money. It grates but we have resigned to it. But I wasn’t expecting to find such soliciting at the US Consulate. It was from the guards opposite the Consulate building. The ones who let you into the waterfront waiting area. They were discreet about the soliciting but it was obvious. We were chagrined. I guess the country is harder than we know.
Now, inside the interviewing hall. Why do Nigerians who work at consulates or High Commissions assume an importance they don’t have? There was this bloke inside one of the booths. He checks the DS-160 confirmation pages and passport photographs. He spoke gruffly and his body language was condescending.
Guy, be calming down! Even women no dey wear shoulder pad again.
Then we were chaperoned to this guy who took biometrics. He was a white dude. He greeted us and asked for our travel passports. He was about to take the biometrics when a female colleague swung by. They started “gisting.” he left us standing and chatted with the colleague.
We stood in front of him like prized idiots. He just kept on chatting with the colleague. He must have kept us waiting for at least fifteen minutes. It was very disrespectful, to say the least.
No be him fault. Na my great, great, great grandfather cause dis see-finish.
Third, standing in line kills you! When did that start? The last time I was at the consulate for a visa interview, there were seats. You sat till your number was called. Admittedly, that was ten years ago but I expected better treatment if anything. We must have stood for fifty minutes before it was our turn to be interviewed. And the missus wore high heels. There were older people standing too. That can’t be right. Made me feel poorly about my citizenship.
I wish the interviews were more private, though. I don’t like people in my business. But if you go for a US visa interview, everyone will be in your business. We could hear the interviewers’ questions and interviewees’ responses. Many linens aired in public. I know the chance of running into someone at your interview on the street is slim. But still, I don’t want the world listening to my life and plans. You can’t unhear some conversations.
Oh, there was this young bloke who was feigning a ridiculous foreign accent. He’d never traveled out of Nigeria before. He was going for a 2-week conference but was staying for 7 weeks. The Consular asked him why that was the case. He began rambling. In his ridiculous accent. Me, I was losing it with the guy. But the Consular Officer was long-suffering. You felt he wanted the guy’s story to cohere. In the end, the dude got refused the visa.
And there was this young couple. They had an adorable daughter, a sweet toddler. They’d also never traveled out of Nigeria. The dude was a farmer I think. I wanted them to get the visa. They got rejected. Gutted for them.
I equally remembered this older couple too. They’d also never traveled out of Nigeria before. They wanted to visit the US to say thanks to a friend who came for their wedding. The Consular Officer didn’t buy it. They got the blue paper. Some lady who was a flight dispatcher at a local airline wanted to go to the US to study to be a pilot. That seemed a credible aspiration given her current job. The Consular Officer must not have been convinced of her intentions. She got the blue paper.
I was most gutted for a woman whose son was in college in the US. The son was born in America and hence an American citizen. The Consular Officer asked if she was going to visit the son. The woman said no, not really. She was going to a different state from where the boy was schooling. She was staying with relatives. That sounded odd to me. But it will make perfect sense if the boy would travel to see the mother in the state she was in. Maybe mama didn’t want to spend money on a hotel visiting the boy. In the end, the mother got rejected for the visa. The Consular Officer told her the son should file for permanent residence for her when he turns twenty-one.
What! Surely, a parent should be allowed to go see her American-born child? What was it about her story and circumstance that didn’t convince the CO she was not an intending immigrant? The missus and I were pained for the mother.
In all, about twenty people were interviewed before it was our turn. Only one elderly woman was issued a visa.
Yup, a US visa is a prized possession.
While the missus and I have strong ties to Nigeria and have traveled often like Benin witches, we do not take the issuance of the visa for granted. We could have been interviewed by a Consular Officer who just didn’t fancy us. A man receives nothing unless it is given to him from above, capisce? God approves. Man gives.
By the way, why do some countries get issued a 10-year visa but we only get two years in Nigeria? India, Argentina, and many other countries get a 10-year validity visa. Why not Nigeria?