Nigerians applying for visas to the United States are currently in a fix as they cannot seem to get appointment dates for interviews.
This is despite the payment of visa fees and other charges which range from N58,000 to N200,000.
Today’s Echo gathers that, depending on the class of visa, the cost ranges between $160, $190 and $265; while the exchange rate published on the US Embassy website is N370 to the dollar, which is higher than the Central Bank of Nigeria’s rate of N306/$1, and the black market rate of N363/$1. .
Student visa applicants are also made to pay a separate $350 “service fee.”
According to the Punch, a visit to the website of the US embassy revealed that applicants who wish to apply for business/tourist visas were informed that there are no available dates before November 19, 2019 at the point of filling Form DS160. .
However, after payment is made in full and an applicant attempts to make an appointment, one is informed through its consultant website hosted by CGI INC afterwards that there are no available dates for visa appointments. .
Also, there is no mechanism put in place for a refund.
A message on its portal, which can only be accessed after payment of visa fees, reads in part, “There are currently no appointment dates available.”
The Chief Executive Officer, Supertech Educonsult, Mr. Oluyemi Ayeni, lamented that many of his students seeking admission to US schools did not get appointments despite paying the service fee.
Ayeni, who helps students with admission and counselling, said the service fee, which is compulsory for all student visa applicants, used to be $200 but has now been increased to $350.
“All my students travelling don’t have appointments and they are resuming in September.
“The service fee that used to be $200 is now $350 (N126,525) non-refundable.
“When you add the visa fee, everything is over N200,000 and it is non-refundable.
“My students are crying; they are suffering. And there is nobody to turn to.
“The embassy has been paid, yet no appointment for anybody.”
A protocol officer in one of the federal ministries said that even government officials travelling unofficially were finding it hard to book appointments.
He said, “We have been trying to get appointment dates since June, to no avail.
“In the past, it would be indicated on the website that you cannot get dates earlier than a specific time.
“However, what it states on the website now is that there is no available date at any time.
“It was never this bad. I have been booking visas for government officials for over seven years now. I still booked visas for UK and Canadian high commissions just recently without any hassles.
“The US used to be the easiest, but now, it is frustrating.
“Even the customer care numbers on the website are not helpful.
“The only persons that can get visas now are those given notes through the ministry of foreign affairs.”
Media reports indicate 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.
According to the Punch 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, The PUNCH had reported last year how the US denies hundreds of Nigerians visas on a daily basis and 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.