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Nigeria included in expanded US immigration ban but students can still obtain visas

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
    • Four of the six countries added to an expanded list of countries whose citizens have been banned from immigrating to the US are African
    • There are now 13 countries included in the ban
    • International students from these countries are still permitted to obtain study visas for the US, but there is a possibility of greater scrutiny of visa applications and higher rejection rates
    • Nigeria, which was a surprise addition to the ban list, is an important sending market for US institutions

The United States has extended the list of countries whose citizens will, with some exceptions, be barred from entering the US on immigrant visas beginning on 22 February 2020. According to an executive order of US President Donald Trump, citizens of Burma (Myanmar), Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanzania will now not be able to obtain US immigration visas. In addition, citizens from the seven countries on the original ban list will continue to face restrictions or extremely stringent vetting regarding travel and immigration to the US. Those countries are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, and Venezuela.

Importantly, students from countries on the latest travel ban are not explicitly prevented from obtaining F-1 student visas to come to study in the US. As President Trump notes in the text of the executive order:

“I have decided not to impose any non-immigrant visa restrictions for the newly identified countries, which substantially reduces the number of people affected by the proposed restrictions.”

That said, the overall effect of the travel ban will likely be to intensify scrutiny of all citizens from countries on the list, which will potentially make it more difficult for students from the targeted countries from obtaining student visas. Already, there are stories and rumours circulating in Nigeria about more stringent practices being applied to Nigerian applicants for US study visas.

The rationale behind the expansion

The new immigration ban list emerges as a result of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) worldwide review of threats to US security – including threats caused by non-cooperative governments or governments unable to provide sufficient data to DHS – conducted between March 2019 and September 2019.

The DHS relies on three main factors to determine which countries will be subject to travel and/or immigration restrictions, according to the executive order:

“Whether a foreign government engages in reliable identity-management practices and shares relevant information; whether a foreign government shares national security and public-safety information; and whether a country otherwise poses a national security or public-safety risk.”

Nigeria’s inclusion particularly concerning

For US educators, the inclusion of Nigeria is particularly troubling. Nigeria is easily one of the most important sending markets in Africa and the US is a preferred destination for Nigerian students. In early 2019, nearly 16,000 Nigerian students were enrolled in US education institutions. Nigeria is currently the seventh most-populous country in the world and the UN expects it to be the third largest by 2100.

Research from the Pew Research Center underlines a common trajectory of Nigerians once they come to the US: in 2016, six-in-ten (59%) of Nigerian immigrants in the US had at least a bachelor’s degree, a “share roughly double that of the overall American population.”

In 2018, 45% of Nigerian adults surveyed by Pew said they wanted to move to another country within the next five years, “by far the highest share of any country surveyed,” – a finding that underscores the degree of mobility we can expect from this important market in the future.

Travel ban can be lifted

There is hope, however, that Nigeria will not be on the ban list for long. Geoffrey Onyeama, Nigeria’s foreign minister, told the New York Times that “his government was already working to address security concerns that Trump administration officials said had prompted the decision.” He told journalists assembled at the State Department that Nigeria had already been able to “tick most of the boxes” required by the DHS’s security protocols and said,

“Hopefully, once that has been achieved, we look forward to being taken off this visa restriction list.”

The Times reports that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, standing beside Mr Onyeama, replied that “Nigeria has room to grow in sharing important national security information. I am optimistic that’s going to happen.”

Educator response

Dr Esther Brimmer, executive director and CEO of NAFSA, issued this statement in response to the latest travel ban:

“As international educators committed to fostering a peaceful, more welcoming United States, we are deeply disturbed by this latest travel ban expansion and the message it sends: that the United States is not a place that welcomes or respects people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives; or to put it simply, America is closing.

Although international students are reportedly not restricted from entering the US with this latest iteration of the travel ban, the combined effect of this policy expansion and the message it sends will undoubtedly accelerate the alarming decline of international students in the US — more than 10% over the last three years. Policies like these and the unwelcoming rhetoric from some of our nation’s leaders continue to hinder our ability to succeed in today’s global competition for talent.”

NACAC (the National Association for College Admission Counseling) echoed some of those same points in a statement of its own:

“Despite [the new travel ban] not directly impacting international students, NACAC remains concerned about the chilling effect, such as detracting from the desirability of the US as an education destination, that these travel bans have on prospective international students.”

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