Immigration is generally the process through which individuals become permanent residents or citizens of another country. Historically, the process of immigration has been of great social, economic, and cultural benefit to states.
The guiding force of the Nigerian immigration is principally from statute and also supported by policy. These laws and policies governs the administration of immigration laws and Visa in Nigeria. The fundamental law is the Immigration Act of 2015 (the 2015 Act), which is supported by the Immigration Regulations of 2017 (the Immigration Regulations).
In addition, is the New Visa Policy (NVP) which was formally launched by President Muhammadu Buhari in February 2020, introducing a reformed visa regime. With respect to the administration of immigration control, the provisions of the 2015 Act specifically designate the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) as the principal body charged with responsibility for administering the Act, under the headship of the Comptroller General of Immigration (CGI). This article takes a critical look at the guiding force of immigration in Nigeria both legislation and body in charged vis a vis Visas and Visa policy.
Regulatory Framework Guiding Immigration in Nigeria.
The Immigration Act, 2015
This is the Act that gives the power of administering the Act, control of persons entering or leaving Nigeria, border surveillance, issuance of travel documents and due enforcement of all laws relating to the immigration and emigration into and out of Nigeria on the Nigerian Immigration Service headed by the Comptroller General of Immigration.
The Immigration Regulations, 2017
The key objective for issuing the Regulations is to create a legal framework for the implementation of the Immigration Act 2015 (“Act”) and a repeal of the Immigration Regulations 1963.
The Regulations came into effect to raise a myriad of compliance issues, which corporate entities that have foreign nationals, as employees, need to be abreast of and strictly comply with. This regulation also contains various compliance matters and red flags that both the body corporate and foreign national employees must be aware of.
The Nigeria Visa Policy 2020.
The new policy was introduced in line with the government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan 2017 – 2020, which aims to remove the barriers that have historically inhibited innovation and economic development in the country. The policy was implemented to improve the business environment, attract Foreign Direct Investment and boost tourism without compromising national security in Nigeria. The Nigeria Visa Policy 2020 is intended to attract innovation, specialized skills and knowledge from abroad to complement locally available ones. This article will also address the innovation of the policy.
Types of Visa and Permit in Nigeria.
The two legislation, that is the 2015 Immigration Act and the Immigration Regulations provide for the issuance of various types of visas and permits by immigration authorities to non-Nigerians for entry to and residence in Nigeria. Also, the New Visa Policy most especially widens the scope of visa classes in the Immigration Act and delineates the following three main categories: (1) Short Visit Visas (SVVs), (2) Temporary Residence Visas (TRVs), and (3) Permanent Residence Visas (PRVs).
What the New Visa Policy(NVP) has done is to provide a class of visa for almost every conceivable purpose for entry into the country, increasing the number of classes of visa from six to 79 in total, with each class of visa now having a code for ease of processing.
Categories of visas identified under the New Visa Policy
Short Visit Visa
The Short Visit Visa provides an avenue for foreign nationals to enter Nigeria for a maximum period of 90 days for various short-term purposes, including visits, tourism, business meetings, sport, entertainment, and specialized services. The number of classes of visa are 28.
Temporary Residence Visa
This category permits foreign nationals to live in Nigeria for a maximum period of two years for the purposes of employment, establishing a business and schooling, among others.
Permanent Residence Visas
PRVs enables individuals to reside in Nigeria for up to five years or more, providing an avenue for obtaining permanent residence status in Nigeria available to investors, retirees and highly skilled individuals, among others.
How to Apply for a Visa
Most application for visas and most permits are made to the Comptroller General of Immigration or to the appropriate Nigerian diplomatic mission established abroad. However, the recently launched NVP promotes the use of two additional visa application channels whereby travelers wishing to enter the country can apply for visas.
The following are mode of application as set out in the NVP:
Application via Visa on Arrival
This mode is available at the Nigerian port of entry, (at the desk marked ‘Visa on Arrival’) for those whose visa application falls within the qualifying classes of visas; these include frequent business travelers, emergency relief workers and holders of passports of African Union (AU) countries. Once the application has been submitted at the port of entry, the applicant will be required to make an online payment through the NIS website and undergo biometric enrolment to be issued the entry visa.]
Online e-visa application
This service is an online process requiring intending visitors to apply online via the NIS website. Following successful consideration and processing of the application, the applicant will receive by email approval confirmation and an Electronic Travel Authorisation Letter (eTAL) within 48 hours of the application; the applicant is required to obtain this pre-approval before coming into Nigeria. Application by e-visa is available for specific classes of SVVs, including the transit visa, business visa, tourism visa, journalist visa and visas for staff of international non-governmental organisations (INGOs).
Application at the Nigerian diplomatic mission or embassy or authorised visa application centre
The submission of an application at the Nigerian diplomatic mission or embassy is an avenue available in respect of all classes of visas, including the categories of visa that qualify for VoA and e-visa applications. To use this channel, application and payment is initially effected online, with the requisite supporting documents to be submitted at the embassy and, if necessary, the applicant will be required to attend an interview; if the application is approved, the visa will be issued. Applications for Nigerian visas requiring submission at Nigerian diplomatic missions can also be submitted at established visa application centres, which are available in some countries and are authorised to receive applications and submit these to Nigerian embassies on behalf of the visa applicant.
Prerequisites for Entry
Section 18 of the 2015 Act stipulates that, unless the Minister or the CGI directs otherwise, an immigration officer shall admit into Nigeria a person who:
- has in their possession a valid passport or such other travel document as is approved by the Minister or CGI for admission into Nigeria; or
- is in possession of a valid visa, residence or work permit, or any other permit, or other form of approval.
An individual who has the requisite documents for entry into Nigeria should, therefore, ordinarily be admitted into the country. Entry can, however, be denied to a foreign national by the immigration officer in the following circumstances: where the requisite visa or permit needed for entry or admission has not been validly obtained; where, on the advice of a medical inspector, it is undesirable for medical reasons to admit such a foreign national; or where the national seeking entry is classified as a prohibited immigrant. Entry can also be validly denied to those considered a risk to public health, public interest or national security and those who should not be admitted into Nigeria on any other grounds as may be prescribed from time to time by the Minister or the CGI.
Regulatory Bodies in Charge of Immigration in Nigeria and their Functions:
The Nigerian Immigration Service
This body is designated under the 2015 Act as the principal body charged with responsibility for administering the Act, with the power to both sue and be sued. The responsibilities of the NIS are clearly stipulated under Section 2 of the 2015 Act and encompass the following:
- control of persons entering or leaving Nigeria;
- issuance of travel documents, including Nigerian passports, to bona fide Nigerians within and outside Nigeria;
- issuance of residence permits to foreigners in Nigeria;
- border surveillance and patrol;
- enforcement of laws and regulations with which it is directly charged; and
- performance of such paramilitary duties within or outside Nigeria as may be required of it under the authority of the 2015 Act or any other enactment.
The provisions of both the 2015 Act and the Immigration Regulations also provide clarity regarding the structure and composition of the NIS, with the head of the NIS designated as the CGI; the duties of officers in the NIS and the procedure for the appointment of immigration officers are also clearly defined, whereby the CGI and the Deputy Comptrollers General are to be appointed by the President from among serving officers in the NIS, on the recommendation of the Civil Defence, Fire, Immigration and Prisons Services Board, with the Board responsible for the appointment of assistant comptrollers general and comptrollers of immigration to assist the CGI.
The Federal Ministry of Interior
The Ministry of Interior (the Ministry) formulates and implements policies related to border management and supervises the NIS. Its mandate is to foster and maintain internal security and citizenship integrity for the promotion of good governance. The Ministry is also responsible for matters related to the granting of Nigerian citizenship and the granting of expatriate quotas, among other functions.
There are also other relevant authorities that are indirectly involved in immigration matter. They are:
- The Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC)- the NIPC was established in 1995 as a federal government agency created to promote, coordinate and monitor all investments in Nigeria, as well as to maintain liaison between investors and ministries, government departments and agencies, institutional investors and other authorities concerned with investment;
- The Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) – which administers the provisions of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) – the principal legislation that governs the incorporation and regulation of the companies in Nigeria. By virtue of the provisions of the CAMA and their applicability on matters relating to foreign participation in enterprises in Nigeria, the CAC, by default, has an impact on the administration of the 2015 Act and some of the provisions therein.
- The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) – SEC administers the provisions of the Investment and Securities Act 2007 and issues guidelines on the regulation of foreign investment in the Nigerian capital market. All foreign investors investing in securities of Nigerian companies – except those of private companies – are expected to register with SEC;
- The Federal Inland Revenue Service– The FIRS is responsible for the collection of relevant corporate taxes as well as the individual state internal revenue services, which are responsible for the collection of personal income taxes of foreign employees working in Nigeria.
Ebunoluwa Bayode Ojo