OPINION: Nigeria's New VISA Policy As An Instrument Of Growth, By Bolaji Badejo
Nigeria has adopted a more relaxed approach to its immigration regulations in a new policy unveiled by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa on Tuesday.
The new VISA policy is aimed at attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as well as boost trade relations and tourism in Africa's largest economy and most populous nation. This policy is also meant to complement President Buhari's commitment to take 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years.
Among other unique classifications, the policy provides for a visa on arrival for citizens of African Union member countries, while visitors interested in tourism and entertainment should benefit from the new electronic visa. The VISA on arrival favors Africans with a valid passport who wish to come into Nigeria for a short visit either for businesses and for tourism, as the visa grants them legal stay for up to 90 days.
This implies that potential investors or tourists who may not be able to obtain VISA at the Nigerian Missions/Embassies in their countries of residence due to the absence of a Nigerian mission in those countries or exigencies of urgent business travels will be issued visa at the point of entry into Nigeria.
The decision to relax visa rules by the Nigerian Government comes six months after the entry into force of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA).
"This new visa policy will advance our goal of building a globally competitive economy by helping attract innovation and specialized skills and knowledge from abroad to complement locally available ones. We are sending a message to the world that Nigeria is open for business.
“The policy is intended to attract innovation, specialized skills and knowledge from abroad to complement locally available ones…it will support the attainment of a globally competitive economy for Nigeria by building on the efforts of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council. The policy is expected to improve the business environment, attract Foreign Direct Investment and boost tourism without compromising national security,” President Buhari said.
Below are some of the advantages of the new policy:
1. Attract Foreign Direct Investment:
The new VISA policy will help Nigeria attract foreign Direct Investment which is currently in short supply. The ability of any government to attract foreign direct investment is a reflection of the level of the acceptability of its policies and investment-related processes as well as evidence of the suitability of local initiatives to external investors.
As a developing economy, Nigeria relies heavily on the inflow of foreign direct investment to promote economic activities, enhance infrastructural development, create employment opportunities and generally enhance social-security initiatives. Developing countries compete to attract the most investment from external sources. This is achieved by putting in place legislation and policies that engender the confidence of external investors in the investor-friendliness of a particular government’s policies and initiatives, including measures put in place to safeguard such investments.
The VISA on arrival policy will ensure quick and prompt administration of immigration permits and the elimination of all forms of bureaucratic impediments that may hinder the free flow of investments into Nigeria.
2. Boost Tourism:
The new VISA Policy policy will help boost tourism in Nigeria. Nigeria as a nation is blessed with huge tourism potentials that is not properly utilized. From the North, East, West, and South, Nigeria has massive tourism potentials that have a high income-generating capacity.
The VISA on arrival policy will encourage more African tourists into Nigeria and the ripple effect will be a boom on hotel occupancy, more spending into the economy and of course, more money into the coffers of government through the visa on arrival charges. The policy is beneficial to tourists because it eliminates the time-wasting and bureaucracy associated with the conventional visa application process, which discourages tourists from traveling. More tourists/investors mean more hotels needed to accommodate them, more restaurants to feed them, etc.
3. Improve Regional Integration:
For some years now, the debate on a unified Africa has been on the top burner. The new VISA policy will help improve regional integration. Regional integration will in no small measure facilitate the exchange ideas and improve regional trade and co-operation in Africa.
4. Making Nigeria a globally competitive economy:
The new VISA policy will enhance Nigeria's quest of building a globally competitive economy. An economy that is driven by Innovation, specialized skills and knowledge from abroad, to complement locally available ones. These skills and innovation from potential foreign investors will stimulate investment and boost economic growth.
5. Introduction of Electronic VISA Application:
One of the unique components of the new VISA policy is the introduction of the electronic visa application in line with new technological trends. This implies that impending travelers can apply for Nigerian VISAs online to save themselves the stress of the manual process.
Although the policy is laudable, there is still work to be done towards creating an enabling environment to attract potential visitors and investors. Nigeria must prioritize the building of trust within its business environment, especially by working on ensuring the safety of lives, properties, and other fundamental freedoms.
Unfortunately, though, present Nigeria is not close to this status. But things have to improve for the visa-on-arrival policy to yield the desired outcomes.
According to the Nigeria Security Tracker, 25,794 people were killed during Buhari's first term (2015-2019) due to insecurity. At least 245 persons were killed in violent attacks across Nigeria in January 2020, according to ton available records.
To attract potential investors, Nigeria must improve on the ease of doing business, security and provision of critical infrastructures.
While implementing the policy, the government must ensure that that the scheme is not hijacked by terrorists, criminals, and undesirable elements.