Nigerian students, who have got admission into American universities for August to September intakes, have expressed fears that they may not be able to fulfil their ambition of studying abroad over failure to successfully book visa interview appointments at the United States embassy and consulate in the country.
The applicants, in a chat with our correspondent, said they had applied for admission for graduate and post-graduate studies into various institutions in the US earlier this year, after which they were given admission for the spring and fall admission windows. They were thereafter provided with I-20 forms, which enabled them to book an interview appointment.
However, securing interview dates after paying the necessary fee required by the US consulate has been a serious hurdle.
While the respective institutions they applied to are expected to resume lectures between the month of August and September, the applicants are yet to secure dates for their visa interviews. The lucky ones were given interview dates that exceeded their resumption dates.
The distraught applicants who spoke to The PUNCH expressed their displeasure over the development, as they claimed to have spent a lot of money before getting to the interview stage.
An applicant who gave his name simply as Francis, said, “I started the process earlier this year with the hope that it should be concluded in the next three to four months but, to my surprise, the embassy did not provide a date for interview. They usually make emergency provisions for students who need to resume before our resumption dates, but now the embassy is doing nothing to resolve the issues, which means that there are no emergency dates for us to go for appointments to be interviewed. This I-20 I am holding expires after the school resumes and it costs so much to get another I-20, which is another admission letter after deferring this current one. I think the US embassy needs to do something about this considering the money I have spent on this process.”
Another applicant, one Tunde, noted that his visa interview date was slated for December but he’s supposed to resume studies at his American school in August. He described the situation as an automatic cancellation of his admission.
He said, “My resumption date is August 15 and they decided to schedule my interview for November. That is like an automatic cancellation when they already told my agent not to book 60 days before resumption. We are not saying that you should give everybody a visa, but try to release the appointment dates. It is a conspiracy against us because they feel the Academic Staff Union of Universities (in Nigeria) is on strike and every student wants to leave the country. I have spent close to N1 million. My parents are disappointed but hopeful that everything will be sorted because it is for my betterment that they decided that I should go abroad.”
Our correspondent learnt that the embassy on May 22 initiated a policy, instructing prospective visa applicants to book appointments 60 days prior to the resumption date of school admitted into. The period allows students to book an emergency appointment.
Stephen, who is also an applicant, said, “The laws for appointment as of last year stated that you can book an emergency appointment 120 days before the actual resumption date. But this year, the US embassy came up with a policy that you can only book the emergency appointment two months before, which is 60 days before your resumption. And to our greatest surprise, most of us are expected to resume in August, which means two months starts in June. We booked the appointment and the date given to us is between October and November. This means I have to defer admission and have to seek another I-20. So all we are asking for is a nearer date before our school resumption. Giving me a date after my resumption is no longer an emergency appointment, and the same embassy will not accept an expired I-20. An emergency appointment does not take more than two weeks before, but now it takes more than four months.”
An educational consultant, Ayeni Oluyemi, who assists applicants to process applications to US universities, complained that the development has left the applicants stranded.
He said, “The students have spent a lot and most of these documents have expiry dates. The visa fee expires in one year. The sevis fee expires in two years, while the i-20 expires the day the school resumes. So what is the fate of those that have already been given admission? Most of these students are postgraduate students and they seek to have an experience different from their first degree.”
Another consultant, Mr Tobi Ajibade, said, “This has not happened before; a situation whereby a student applied for emergency (visa appointment) and he or she is being denied. They should tell us what is happening. Is it a case of diplomacy or what? I have been in this business for 15 years and I have never applied for appointment for any student and they are denied.”
Ajibade, however, disclosed that the consulate often releases names under emergency conditions.
He said, “There are cases whereby they release names for emergency appointments on Saturdays and Sundays. They do this when there are problems of this kind. But it is always very chaotic. They can interview like 500 students in one day.”
Also speaking to our correspondent, Mr Felix, an educational consultant who claims to have processed the application for close to 60 people, said his clients are beginning to lose trust in him.
“I have been doing this job for over 15 years and I have also got referrals from it. But what is happening now has begun to discredit my efforts. The people I registered have started grumbling. Some already concluded that I have scammed them. If not for my track record, it would have been worse. I also wonder why the embassy still collects money from the students. As I speak to you, students are still going to the bank to pay for application and sevis fee. They should advise them to stop paying; no appointment this year again. An average applicant spent up to N600,000 before getting to this stage. To pay sevis fee is N200,000, while visa fee is N68,000 yet there is no hope.”
Reacting, a Lagos-based lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, said the problem of students seeking to study abroad in the first place is a problem fundamentally rooted in the nation’s chaotic educational system. added that the government has lost its credibility to provide solutions in the education sector.
He said, “The leprosy of our problem is our chaotic educational system. Students and parents who seek a way out of our chaotic education system may not see it the way I am seeing it now, because they just want how they can better their own lot academically because our education system is in a state of perpetual crisis. So, they are seeking a way out. They want to school abroad. So if they are having problems at the embassy, they have to look for a way out by all means.”
The legal practitioner said though the Nigerian government has lost credibility to intervene for its citizens, it remains the only resort for the applicants to find a solution to the problem.
He said, “Nigerian parents cannot engage this government by themselves. Is it a country that cannot issue its people passport speedily? Or a country that has no credibility to engage foreign government that would say, please expedite the way you grant visas to Nigerians so that they can school abroad? Won’t that be self-mockery? The truth is, the entire visa application process is based on their policy. It is based on the number of people they can take. If the anger is that they are not telling us the truth on the possibility of granting visas to the applicants, then the parents should engage the minister of foreign affairs so that they can wade in, and then from government to government basis, there can be a diplomatic discussion around this problem and then a solution can be found.”