OPINION EDITORIAL BY UBONG KINGSLEY-UDOH
About two months after he decidedly wanted international students to leave the country because classes were going online for no fault of theirs in a pandemic-ravaged world, the President of the United States is back at it again – altering the student visa, proposing rule changes, and in his characteristic manner, whipping up identity sentiments. The administration scrapped the policy after a slew of lawsuits. It’s an election year, so it isn’t surprising for me to see these identity bickerings masquerading as a national security agenda.
Personally, I’m not surprised by the antics of the current United States leadership. I’m more concerned about my people who oftentimes than not support this manifestly inadequate status quo. I use to believe that the first rule in life is about self-preservation, but my assumptions have been shattered since 2015 when Donald Trump made the call to run for President. If the American constitution allowed foreigners to vote, he will win his Nigerian caucuses, popular votes, and every other metrics that are employed in deciphering who wins an election.
Capping the F1 student visa for Africans and Middle Easterners at a two-year maximum is populism at its best. With an international student population of 1,095,299 from a 2019 estimate, international students contributed US$41Billion to the US economy in the said year and supported 458,290 jobs in 2019. Paying such outlandish tuition fees, for an education that isn’t worth much, but oftentimes an induction into an elite club, and having to live with a high degree of uncertainty and anxiety about your visa status typifies the wickedness that the current administration has been reputed for.
It started out with high visa refusals as soon as he got into office in 2017. Nigerians had their visas cancelled as soon they touched down at US airports for no particular reason. They cancelled drop-box applications in 2019, increased visa fees in 2019 citing a certain extant rule that is premised on reciprocity. In January 2020, they limited Nigeria and five other countries from gaining immigrant visas to the United States. Then in July 2020, the deportation of students was on the offing, and now, less than two months before the general elections, limiting international students’ visa is in the mix.
2016: 179,145 approved visas for Nigerians
2017: 168,980 approved visas for Nigerians
2018: 143,783 approved visas for Nigerians
2019: 57.4% refusal (less than 100,000 approvals)
Being the most educated immigrant group in the United States didn’t just happen miraculously. First and foremost, it happened because there were favourable immigration policies to get you there in the first place. If you look at the numbers, Nigerians got more visa approvals under the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama administrations than they did under George Bush and currently under Donald Trump. I don’t want to posit my arguments on the ideological stance of the political parties that ushered these individuals to office, but it’s very clear which offers immigrant-friendly policies.
In the United Kingdom, it’s pretty much the same phenomenon. The number of Nigerians that immigrated to the UK between 1997 – 2010 was at an all-time high under the Labour government. Less than 30 days after becoming Prime Minister in 2010, David Cameron started his campaign of calumny against immigrants. Worthy of note was the cancellation of the two years Post-Work Study Visa and the reviewing of the entire Tier 2 Visa System that made it extremely difficult for international students to stay after graduation having spent tens of thousands of Pounds Sterling to get an education.
At most, a capped two-year F1 student visa will only get you an Associate Degree at a Community College, the equivalent of a Nigerian Polytechnic OND, or a two-year Master’s Degree which after graduation, you will find it difficult to change the status to an immigrant class because Nigerians have been banned from immigrating to the United States. If the recent two-year visa class becomes the rule, it means that Nigerians cannot study for a Bachelors or Doctoral program in any school within the United States.
The big picture in all of these points to certain predictions: The index of being the most educated immigrant group in the United States will have a downward gradient because you wouldn’t have the numbers to keep that up due to a closed immigration pipeline. Remittances will also dwindle drastically, as you wouldn’t have the numbers immigrating to the United States. In 2019, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers estimate, the Nigerian diaspora sent home US$25.5Billion which stood at par with the entire country’s budget for the same fiscal year.
Arsenal Academy currently has seven Nigerians in its starting eleven and two on the bench. If properly harnessed and given the right conditions, these youngsters will pledge their future to play for Nigeria thereby solving the talent conundrum. This is possible because their parents immigrated to the United Kingdom given the fair immigration policies of the time. As Africans, nay Nigerians, these nationalistic policies from the West isn’t in our best interests, and it smacks of hypocrisy when you travel because of favourable Liberal policies and you become a Conservative after settling in blocking others from coming.
Another anecdote is the Nigerian Female Basketball team fondly called D’Tigress. They won the FIBA AfroBasket 2017 and 2019 defeating 12-time champions, Senegal in the respective editions of the competition. We won that competition mainly because the talent base is situated in the United States playing in the WNBA and internationally and not in Nigeria’s Zenith Women Basketball League. We won that competition because mostly, the parents of these players immigrated to give their wards a good life and as a nation, we are enjoying the ripple effect of their decisions.
A huge chunk of the players that play for D’Tigress who form the nucleus of the team from Sarah Ogoke, Ezinne Kalu, Aisha Mohammed, Atonye Nyingifa, Evelyn Akhator, Victoria Macaulay, Promise Amukamara, and Adaora Elonu all hold American citizenship. For five years now, they have been at the zenith of Africa’s female basketball winning back-to-back continental tourneys, shattering records, and setting an example for other immigrant kids to tow their paths and the result is becoming evident. Talk about positive karma.
About two months ago, Erica Ogwumike, the last of the Nigerian-American basketball quartet whose elder sister Nneka is a prominent member of the US Female Basketball team announced her decision to play for the Nigerian national basketball team at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Arike Ogunbowale is now very conscious of her Nigerian heritage (if you check her Instagram account lately). You shouldn’t be surprised if Nigeria’s female basketball team end up winning the next five editions of the FIBA Women’s AfroBasket.
Picking ideological positions isn’t a bad thing as long as it aligns with putting you and your people at an advantage.