Travel Smart With Attorney Chika Okoroafor: Why I Love Traveling and Why Your Visitors Visa Application May be Denied Even Though You are Rich

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This post is part of the Travel Smart series written by Chika Okoroafor, an Immigration lawyer based in Nigeria. To get a glimpse into the wonderful work she is doing helping people who want to leave (whether permanently or temporarily) Nigeria’s shore,  read our interview with her here.

Hello everyone, please get in here. This article promises to be an interesting yet educative read. Look around you, someone you know is thinking about traveling outside Nigeria. It could even be you. If you are not thinking about it today, you will probably be tomorrow. By nature, we are inquisitive and adventurous beings in constant pursuit of knowledge. With the exception of Agoraphobics, I believe that we all are Christopher Columbus in some way.

I love to travel. For me, traveling is educative, therapeutic, ethereal, fun, and so much more. For me, traveling is living. The beauty of nature can never be aptly defined in words, nor ideally qualified by adjectives. One needs to experience it.

In my university days, I was a member of Junior Chambers International (JCI for Short). The highlight of my membership with this amazing association was that we traveled a lot, locally and internationally, attending workshops, seminars, trainings, conferences etc. Before I graduated, through JCI, I visited 21 out of 36 states in Nigeria ( I have since covered more local and international states). I had fellow Jaycees who covered more states and traveled around the globe while in school.

In those days, as a student my funds were very limited. My parents’ priority was to provide the basics; any extracurricular expenses had to be scraped out from whatever was left and where nothing could be scraped, a little mathematics came very handy. Ever heard of the the 101, 011 or 001 formula? Foregoing one or several of the three meals a day to scrape by. When it comes to traveling, passion always comes before price. Passion always finds a way, for what wouldn’t one do for passion? So I gave up meals to save for a trip. Some sites are priceless, top on the list from my JCI adventure days was traveling the devil’s elbow of the Obudu mountains enroute the famous Obudu cattle ranch; the drive up the mountain is my must trepidus and exhilarating experience yet. Other scenery included the beautiful landscape, rural and cultural preserve of Ilara Mokin in Ondo State, Yankari game reserve in Bauchi state, Olumo rock Abeokuta etc, not discounting friends made along the way who turned family.

Traveling teaches love and tolerance; perhaps that accounts for my unique perspectives of life, one of which is we are all people irrespective of where we come from. Are you conceited and tribalistic ? A healthy dose of traveling will do your soul some good.

Pardon the derail, this article is about international travel via the visitors’ entry permit platform.

Visitors’ Visa is an entry clearance permit granted by a diplomatic mission to a foreigner/ alien according its holder a right to enter its country albeit  temporary for a particular purpose and for a stipulated time frame.  

Visitors applications are the most applications diplomatic missions receive. It’s also the most abused visa. Holders of visitors visas, by regulation, are expected to strictly adhere to the purpose for which visa was granted ab initio. There are plethora of visitors visas, differentiated by purpose of visit e.g. family visitors visa, tourist visitors visa, medical visitors visa, sport/entertainment visitors visa, business visitors visa, study visitors visa etc.

A diplomatic mission may merge a couple of these visitors visa in one clearance permit eg. US B1/B2 covers family, tourist, and business visits while UK standard Visitors Visa covers family, friends and tourist visits. Where a visa stands on its own, its application has to be strictly for the purpose it was issued. For instance, if an applicant is granted visa as a tourist, they are not expected to work, rely on the host country’s public welfare packages like free medicals, school etc. Such indulgence will be a breach of  visa regulation and if caught, visa will be revoked and there may be further consequences like a ban.

Another important aspect of a visitor’s visa is tenure. Before visitors visa is issued, an applicant has to specify the duration of stay. The fact that a diplomatic mission issues more time than applied for, does not automatically confer on applicant right to stay beyond reasonable time. For example, Mr X, a first-time applicant, applied to UK diplomatic missions for a standard visitors visa to visit a friend or for holiday, specifying duration of stay to be two weeks. If found eligible, UK will issue him 6 months multiple entry permit. This length of visa granted does not translate to a right to stay. It is, at the most, tenure bestowed in trust extended to Mr. X to use bona fide, for subsequent visits.  That is why it is a multiple entry visa. Even where six months visa is granted at single entry, applicant is still expected to adhere to purpose and duration stated in his application.

Qualifying for a visitors visa

Most often, people and/or “agents” gamble with their application, using the correction through error approach where they assume that what works for A will work for B.  For instance: A and B work in the same organization, earn the same salary (or B may earn more). A applied for visitors visa and was granted, B did same but was not so lucky. I would be a millionaire if I have a penny for every time I hear this remark “ I did the same thing A did, I earn more, yet I was refused” or “ how come my junior(s) are always successful with their application and I have been repeatedly refused”. Well all I know is that just like in gambling, you win some, you lose some.

Dear readers, please note that visitors visa regulation is based on individual assessment. That you work in the same organization, earn the same income as a colleague who has been assessed eligible does not confer the same status on you. Financial assessment is not limited to income, your financial encumbrances vis a vis your income is also considered.

Using the scenario above, A may be single or married and his wife may also be gainfully employed, while B who may be earning more than A, is also married, his wife is a homemaker, he has two children in school, aged parents etc. From the evidence of his financial statement presented, it will be obvious that his income goes as soon as it comes in. Thus, between A and B, B, is an economic red flag to an entrance clearance officer.

Another analogy on financial assessment: Mr. Y a trader, trades in his registered business name, applies for a visitors visa with his family, he enclosed certificate of business registration and bank statement etc. and his application went hitch-free. His friend, Mr. X, owns a business, a duly incorporated limited liability company, let’s call it XYZ LTD. Shareholders and directors are Mr. X’s nuclear family members i.e. wife and children. Mr. X wants to treat family to a vacation abroad so he got his company’s incorporation documents, XYZ cooperate bank statements. XYZ company is worth billions. He confidently submits documents to a diplomatic mission of his choice. Mrs X and children are already daydreaming about upcoming glamourous vacation. Weeks later the package is returned with the rejection letter enclosed; refusal was on the grounds of lack of funds. It could be that at the interview, the entrance officer asks for evidence of fund and Mr. X flashes XYZ business account statement and officer goes, “sorry but these funds are not available to you”. It’s a simple company law principle enshrined in the locus classicus  case Salomon vs Salomon: a company is a legal being, different from its shareholders – no one can lay claim to what belongs to another. At best an individual may enjoy some benefits by virtue of his position in a company and such privileges must be expressly stated and agreed by board resolution, during a duly convened board of director’s meeting (irrespective of the fact that directors in this scenario are Mr. X and family/Visa applicants).

In nutshell, to present your company’s account for the purpose of proving financial eligibility, documents like, board resolution, letter from the bank where fund is held, and an official letter in company’s letter head are essential. And yet financial eligibility alone, though a very vital tool, does not by itself suffice.

In reiteration, there are no static formula, every application is holistically analyzed before conclusion about an applicant’s eligibility is reached. In addition to one’s economic status, below, are two key factors considered during an assessment of visitors visa applicant.

Proof of Purpose

In applying for a visitors visa, there must be a clear and definite purpose and documents in support for e.g family visit/business visit. When applying based on your relationship with someone in the host country, there should be an invitation letter from your host and your host must be a national or documented resident of the country. In case of a tourist visa, a well planned-out travel itinerary will suffice for proof of purpose.

Ties to Home Country:

A diplomatic mission needs to be convinced that a visitor’s visa applicant is not an economic migrant. How? Via an applicant’s ties to his/her home country. Ties can be ascertained by applicant’s personal and financial circumstances.

Thus, marital status, responsibilities (family/social), financial status vis-a-vis financial liabilities, career, age, immigration history, are factors considered collectively during an applicant’s assessment. Each of these attributes have its significance with regards to applicant’s eligibility.

For instance, a minor applying alongside his parents/guardian has a better standing over an unemployed major sponsored by his parents or invitee. An unemployed, married parent, in some cases is considered eligible over a single, though employed individual. Also some diplomatic missions are not first-time applicant friendly. So here you see an averagely financial applicant considered over a financially buoyant applicant because the former has visited countries the diplomatic mission considered at par with its country while the other applicant may be refused because he/she holds a virgin passport.

In conclusion, the importance of pre-application assessment by a professional who understands the demeanor of various diplomatic missions cannot be overemphasized. Assessment is not recommended for first-time applicant alone. During subsequent applications or renewal, it’s imperative to seek professional counsel as well, for the following reasons:

I Personal/financial circumstances may have changed.

II Change of purpose may entail different visa type, and

III Immigration rules are not static; they are regularly reviewed.

In time, we will discuss each visitors visa type disclosing tips and tricks on how to professionally package a visitor visa application.

It’s school season! My firm represents and liaises with several international schools. If you have any questions or are considering studying abroad, leave a comment below or email us at attorneychika@gmail.com. We will be happy to answer your questions. There is always something for anyone. Our next post will be on student visas. So look out for it.

Thank you all for your comments and shares in our previous posts.

 

Chika Okoroafor

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Travel Smart With Attorney Chika Okoroafor: How a Media Feature Inspired Me to Help More Intending Immigrants

Attorney chika
Chika Okoroafor
Anne’s Note: Neither Chika nor I anticipated that our interview last year would generate as much interest as it did. In this feature, Chika takes us through what she has been up to helping people who contacted her with their immigration issues as a result of that interview, and our plans for the future. And we hereby officially launch a series “Travel Smart With Attorney Chika” where she will give us periodic tips on how to successfully travel abroad safe and smart. I hope you enjoy this feature as much as I did.
It was sometime in mid-October 2016. I had just got home from a short vacation where I was away from civilization (deliberately) for four days; no phone calls, sms or internet. As soon as I  got into town and switched on my phone, what happened next can be best defined in one word: ‘chaos’.  Notifications were coming in nanoseconds. My screen was lit in red numerical dots–notifications from my email, apps, sms, missed call icon etc. I couldn’t access the internet on my laptop and my poor phone couldn’t handle the traffic. I was startled. I knew I would be coming back to backlogs but the deluge of messages was strange. I hurried home, got my laptop out to access my mail and delete the “spam mails” that were choking life out of my phone memory so I could access my sms et al. So I got into my email and behold they were not spam after all. They were mails from people–feedback from an interview I granted which appeared in Huffington Post.
 
Since that interview, I have been, and I still am, working with clients with immigration issues who contacted me. With the good comes the bad: I have also had my fair share of tough lashes from people who disagree with what we are doing. Some are of the opinion that I am  “promoting brain drain.” Others didn’t quite like the counsel they got. One potential client didn’t take well an honest opinion that given his peculiar personal and economic circumstances at that time, he was not qualified to get a visa to his country of choice. I had advised that he waited a little more and improved his condition to increase his chance of success. However, in the end the good outweighed the not-so-good. Since the interview, the firm has expanded its clientele, increased its network, and potential foreign investors from across the globe have sought us out.
 
Because of what we learned from the  experience–that there is a dearth of qualify information out there regarding immigration–my firm has decided to start a campaign to encourage and offer legitimate opportunities to people who may want to leave Nigerian shores for the proverbial greener pastures.  We have taken this challenge to ensure that people who are desperate to leave Nigeria are not duped off their hard earned money and given false promises by “agencies” whose sole interest is in lining their own pockets.

Just as doctors cannot cure every disease, so it is too that  lawyers cannot win every case. First world countries have in place strict immigration policies to help protect them from being overwhelmed by economic migrants. The effect is that for us in third world countries, not everyone  will qualify for certain categories of visas to visit or reside in developed countries. A good lawyer will tell you from the get-go the likelihood of success of your visa application and give you other options, including other countries, that may be a better fit given your standing in life. For example, someone who cannot afford the high cost of education in U.S. and Europe can be offered opportunities in South Africa and Ghana.
 
On whether or not our firm is doing the country ill by promoting brain drain, I have  this to say: I once used to discourage migration. I disagreed with my friends and families who considered migration. Then, I felt migration  was the height of unpatriotism. But in the course of practicing immigration law and being privy to clients’ unique circumstances–cases that migration is the only option, for example, family reunions, economic opportunities, access to better medical care to save lives etc.–my ideologies evolved. While I still do not support permanent migration, I encourage traveling and temporal migration especially for study, family reunion and medical care.  The present state of Nigeria education and medical system is anything but encouraging. Traveling to other countries is not a luxury; it is educative, hence imperative. Because there is an upsurge of socioeconomic challenges in Nigeria with the political class bedeviling the future of masses with farcical policies, when Nigerian citizens travel abroad, a mental evolution from associating with individuals from saner climes is triggered, and when they come back home, they demand that our leaders do better. I will elucidate on this properly in a separate post. In summary, I see migration now as a tool and not an end.

 
The experience I gained from that one interview has been exciting, draining and most of all humbling. Some cases we handled gives credence to biblical phrase “ My people suffer for lack of Knowledge”.  Nigerians need as a matter of urgency a reorientation about migrating/travel ling especially on the “how” to go about it and the reality of what to expect for “when”.

Since it all started through the author of this platform, Anne Mmeje, when she published our interview on Huffington Post, another platform she contributes to, we, not wanting to be like the biblical nine ungrateful lepers, have decided to partner with her in our campaign to enlighten Nigerians on migration. 

Our firm will use Anne’s blog as a medium to reach out to people who are hungry for information on immigration. We will do this by publishing educative contents about various country visa types and how to meet their requirements. We will also give tips on documentation/packaging. We want the topics to be open and interactive  via the comment session, so we will give readers opportunities to write us about their traveling/immigration inquiries or challenges.

In all, our aim is to promote what we term  “Travelsmart Consciousness” and to provide travel aids to eligible individuals and help non-eligibles find other alternatives to prospering,  even if that means staying back home. We would rather people who are struggling economically save the little they have and invest it here in Nigeria than have them waste it on what is at best a pipe dream. We will also create awareness on the dangers of illegal migration, challenges illegal migrants face and why we discourage same.

Please note while information and answers giving during interactions on the blog is free, any individual who demands for personal service i.e individual assessment and visa packaging assistance will be charged a professional fee.

We intend to start with one publication a week. We will increase the sessions as we progress. We will be publishing scenarios inspired by real-life cases we have handled. (Clients’ and and former clients’ identifying information will be protected so as not to violate our obligation of confidentiality.)
To help us know what issues you would like us to address, we request that you give us feedback in the comment session. You can also write to us on countries of your interest and visa categories you wish us to discuss by sending us an email at attorneychika@gmail.com.