© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
How South Africa denies Nigerians entry through late issuance of visa
SOUTH African High Commission to Nigeria seems to have adopted a new tactic of denying Nigerians entry into its country by waiting for a long period of time to process their visa applications. By the time the visa is eventually issued, the purpose of the visit must have passed.
In its visa application form, the South Africa High Commission states that it takes between five to ten days to process visitor’s visa application. Also, the VFS Global, the company that receives visa applications on behalf of South Africa states on its website that “the timelines given by South African High Commission in Nigeria for the processing of each application is minimum 6 working days.”
But an applicant is told that it takes a minimum of 15 working days to process the application after paying N32, 671 non-refundable fees at the VFS Global. Again, most applicants do not get any response from the High Commission even after the 15 working days.
South Africa High Commission requires Nigerian applicants to show verifiable return flight ticket and accommodation as part of the visa application requirements.
As applicants are not aware of the unstated minimum of 15 working days, they often purchase their flight tickets and book accommodation which they may never use because the period of processing their applications is overstretched.
The delay in visa issuance has prevented many Nigerians from participating in international conferences taking place in South Africa. An example is just the concluded African Investigative Journalism Conference that took place at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg between October 28 and 31.
The South Africa High Commission is still holding the passports of the Nigerian journalists even when the conference has been concluded despite some of them applying for visa three weeks earlier before the conference was due to commence.
The passport of the former editor of The ICIR, Fisayo Soyombo, who was scheduled to speak at the conference, is still with South Africa High Commission even though he applied for visa on time.
Theophilus Abbah, a journalist and trainer did not participate in the conference because his passport is still with the High Commission.
This delay in issuing visa also affected Chikezie Omeje, The ICIR’s senior investigative and data reporter who won the best fact check prize in this year’s African Fact Checking Awards. He could not travel to receive the prize at the ceremony in Johannesburg on October 30 because his passport is still with the High Commission.
Omeje said he applied for the visa on October 11 and even followed up with a letter for expedited visa processing but still have not gotten any response from the High Commission.
Similarly, Ibrahim Alawode who was the runner-up in the student category of the award still has not seen his passport despite all his effort to reach out to the High Commission to get his visa to travel for the award ceremony.
A young journalist, based in Lagos, told The ICIR that she got her visa after two weeks that the workshop she intended to travel for had ended.
Many of the visa applicants who spoke to The ICIR on Thursday said the pattern of delay in issuing a visa is a new practice by the South Africa High Commission as they suggested that it could be a new tactic of preventing Nigerians from visiting South Africa.
A staff of the VFS Global told The ICIR that delays in processing visa application were caused by the absence of a consular officer at the High Commission for about a month.
He said a new consular officer was posted just Thursday last week and there was already a backlog of applications. He said during the period without a consular officer, only emergency visa applications were processed, like those going for medical treatment.
Several calls made by The ICIR to the South Africa High Commissions were not answered and The ICIR reporter who visited the High Commission was prevented from gaining access to the premises by a security agent.
George Edokpa, spokesperson of Ministry of Foreign Affairs told The ICIR on the phone that he was not aware of the maltreatment of Nigerians by the South Africa High Commission. He, however, referred the reporter to the director of consular services in the ministry, whom he said would be in a better position to provide answers.
The reporter was told at the consular department that “the director was not on seat”.
It is unclear whether the unnecessary delay in processing visa applications by the South Africa High Commission is a deliberate policy or temporary issue occasioned by the alleged absence of a consular officer.
At a time that many African countries are implementing visa on arrival for Africans as a result of the push for free trade and movement of people in the continent, this maltreatment of Nigerians by the South Africa High Commission appears to be an insult.
South Africa, in fact, mostly closes her door to other Africans but more welcoming to the wider world, according to a BBC report.
“Citizens of only 15 African nations can travel to South Africa without a visa, yet holders of 28 different European passports can enter the country freely,” the BBC report says.