Lagosland: US Visa Odyssey of a Nigerian Student
Last year we wrote about a student visa applicant in Russia going through 7 interviews to receive a US visa. Not to fall behind their brethren in Russia, US consular officials in Nigeria are no slouches in running Nigerian students through the visa gamut, a veritable Lagosland of adventure, obstacles, and consular vengeance. Consider the case of Yvonne.
Yvonne comes from a well-to-do family of professionals and is an honors science student at a US university. During her junior year, she was caught shoplifting at a store, with the value of the merchandise less than $100. She was convicted under the state’s 1st time shoplifting statute. When she returned to Nigeria and filled in a visa application, she failed to indicate that she had been cited for shoplifting. The initial consular officer at the consulate in Lagos orally approved the application. Upon discovery of the shoplifting, the same officer called her back in for another interview. After an extensive second interview in which Yvonne admitted to the conviction and disclosed all of the circumstances surrounding her case, the officer re-approved the visa.
When a consular supervisor got wind of the approval, he called Yvonne back in for another interview. Well, not really an interview: the consular officer had made up his mind in advance to punish Yvonne – despite the fact that US immigration law does not allow for consular officers to punish visa applicants – and deny her under Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. After asking about the shoplifting incident, he handed her a standard 214(b) denial and told her she may re-apply for a visa if she wished.
Yvonne’s case then took a more bizarre turn. She applied for a visa again. This time, a new officer went beyond the 214(b) decision and determined that Yvonne was permanently inadmissible for shoplifting – a crime of moral turpitude (Immigration and Nationality Act Section 212(a)(2)(A)(i)(I))! Perplexed, Yvonne applied again a week later – and was interviewed by another officer, who agreed with the finding of permanent inadmissibility. In contrast to the re-opened visa approval, a consular manager apparently did not bother to review these decisions to permanently bar Yvonne: if the supervisor had done so, he or she would have realized that Yvonne’s shoplifting conviction fell under the petty theft exception (Immigration and Nationality Act Section 212(a)(2)(A)(ii)(II)), i.e., Yvonne was not permanently inadmissible and did not require a waiver.
To summarize, Yvonne underwent five interviews conducted by four different officers – one deciding to issue her a visa, one punishing her and refusing the visa under Section 214(b), and two erroneously deciding to permanently bar her.
This was not the end. When Yvonne contacted our office after running through this rigamarole, we notified the post in Lagos of the errors. It replied that she may reapply for a visa, but upon a finding of eligibility, she would need to apply for a waiver. In other words, she is still permanently inadmissible, even if she qualified for the visa, and so would require a nonimmigrant visa waiver application.
We then contacted Washington, which thankfully put an end to the nonsense. Eventually, Yvonne received her visa, enabling her to return to her school. Certainly Yvonne shares in the blame for her visa problem because of the shoplifting incident and her failure to disclose it. But what about the consular officers and managers at the US Consulate in Lagos who apparently spend more time overturning visa approvals and punishing visa applicants than reviewing erroneous decisions to permanently bar visa applicants? Not what one would call a customer-friendly attitude towards visa visitors at Lagosland. No wonder that when asked to provide the names of the responsible consular officers, the consulate declined to do so – calling it an “internal matter”.