BusinessDay

Nigeria among African top 10 for easy visa processes

Nigeria currently ranks among the top 10 African countries offering easy visa processes to visitors. Experts say this signals a boost for foreign direct investments (FDIs) and travel in the country.

According to Africa Visa Openness Report 2021, an annual report that measures the extent to which African countries are open to visitors from other African countries, Benin Republic, The Gambia, and Seychelles are 2021’s top performers, offering visa-free access to all African visitors in 2021.

Nigeria ranks 7th on the list offering visa-free access to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) countries and visa on arrival to other African countries.

In February 2020, the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) launched the Nigeria Visa Policy 2020 seeking to improve ease of doing business, attract FDIs, tourists, and individuals with specialised skills without compromising national security.

Experts say as the COVID-19 infection rates declined and a number of countries began to open their borders safely and securely, Nigeria will experience a surge in travel and foreign investments with the implementation of the free-visa access and visa-on-arrival policy.

Tayo Ojuri, managing partner, Aglow Aviation Support Services Limited, informs BusinessDay that the visa on arrival policy is working in Nigeria as his company has processed visas for people since countries started lifting travel bans.

“FDIs and business partners have been getting their visa-on-arrival, which is valid for 30 days and can extend their initial entry visas for a maximum of one year from the date of entry. This is quite liberal and a lot of people have taken advantage of this to get training, conduct research, and business meetings,” Ojuri says.

Nigeria’s visa-on-arrival takes an average of 10 to 15 minutes to process after visitors arrive except for a few occasions when there is a systems breakdown, he states.

The policy did not work till June 2021 when international travels picked up, but since then, the policy has been working and has been enhanced since travel restrictions were being lifted, he notes.

The Africa Visa Openness Report further shows that the countries that progressed the most in the last five years in West Africa include the Benin Republic, The Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone; in Southern Africa, includes Angola, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and in Central Africa, like Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe, etc.

In East Africa, Rwanda and Tanzania; and in North Africa, Egypt and Tunisia topped the list.

In this new era of travel, safety and hygiene protocols have become as important as travel documentation and visa formalities. Ensuring that visitors can move through border controls smoothly and securely has taken on a new urgency.

Travel experts say, one way of getting there is to streamline the visa process.

To do this, the report suggests that countries can use a range of solutions, which include reducing the documents, fees, and time necessary to obtain a visa; moving to eVisas, issuing visas on arrival, and eliminating visas altogether.

“Free movement is central to Africa’s recovery from the crippling effects of the pandemic. Allowing businesspeople, investors, tourists, students, and workers to travel across the continent with ease will revitalise African economies and re-energise pan-African unity.

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“Africa’s rising young population is poised to take charge of the continent’s future. All young people need is the freedom to move around the continent and support as they develop into Africa’s entrepreneurs and business leaders. Opening borders will ensure Africa’s travel, tourism, and investment growpace,” the report states.

“We need the visa regime to be able to help people move around. We also need the right customs regime and the right border automation control and so on, to support the movement of people, goods and services for the development, growth, and sustainability of the African economy as we begin to recover from this pandemic,” Adefunke Adeyemi, Africa regional director, advocacy and strategic relations, Africa, for International Air Transport Association (IATA) said.

For Wayne Godwin, senior vice president, JLL Hotels & Hospitality Group for sub-Saharan Africa, in addition to visa on arrivals, the free-trade agreement is an absolute game-changer for travel.

If 97 percent of commodities and goods are tariff-free, that is going to do a lot for regional trade. And when there is regional trade, travel will follow,” Godwin states.

The report also shows that between 2016 and 2021 two-thirds of countries in all regions of the continent have improved or maintained their visa openness score over the past five years.

To facilitate access, 24 African countries now offer eVisa. The COVID-19 pandemic has given a new impetus to human mobility. Let us capitalise on this silver lining by improving connectivity and embracing technological solutions. An Africa with liberal visa regimes and open borders benefits us all, Khaled Sherif, vice president, regional development, integration, and business delivery complex at the African Development Bank, notes.

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