One of the problems hampering the increase in visa appointments by the U.S. Mission in Nigeria is the manipulation of the visa appointment system by touts, Susan Tuller, the U.S. Consular Coordinator, has said.
Addressing journalists in Lagos Tuesday, Ms Tuller said the problem is particularly rife in Lagos.
”So, unfortunately, visa facilitators and travel agents, and some others manipulate our visa appointment system for their own financial gain,” she said.
“And even though in Lagos, they operate in the parking lot, right next door to our Consular operations, we really have little control over that because they’re not operating on our property and we can’t police them ourselves.
“Unfortunately, the visa facilitators here operate with impunity. They operate for financial gain. And as long as they are allowed to do that and as long as Nigerians continue to pay very high fees to them to get an appointment, that will likely continue and that makes it very hard for us to really control the number of visa appointments that we make available.”
On Tuesday, the U.S. Mission launched the ‘No-Interview Renewals‘ process, a new visa application procedure aimed at expanding services to assist non-immigrant visa applicants in the country to qualify to renew their visas.
U.S. visa application fee costs $160 and is valid for one year. But since the pandemic, the government has been extending the validity to enable people get more time for visa appointments. Ms Tuller said currently, worldwide, all U.S. visa fees are valid till September 30, 2023.
“I really want to reiterate that there’s no reason to pay any additional fees to a visa facilitator or travel agent,” the U.S. government official said.
“As of right now, there are thousands of appointments available for this no interview renewal programme, they are available online right now. And as long as you meet the criteria and follow the procedures that I’m about to describe, there is no reason to pay somebody to get that appointment.
“One of the real challenges with paying somebody for the appointment is that the visa facilitators use fake information to book these appointments. So then when you buy an appointment from them, you don’t know the information they’ve put in the system. Once the information is entered into the system, this system is part of your consular service record with us.
“And we see a lot of people who pay the facilitator who doesn’t even know what was used to book the appointment and then they come in and we are not able to see them because the information in the system doesn’t match the information they have on their passports and what they are telling us.
“I really urge people to do this themselves. Don’t pay somebody to do it for you and you don’t know what will come of that. All of the information is available to the public on ustraveldocs.com.”
Ms Tuller also said it is important for visa applicants to drop off their application in person, or if it is a family, by a member of the family.
“What we don’t want is to create a whole new industry for our visa facilitators to charge to drop off people’s passports. So we ask that you come in person and then if we have any questions we can ask you right then to make sure you have all the information that we need.”