The PIE understands that the British High Commission has been asked to offer diplomatic support and the situation is being resolved.
Ahead of a busy recruitment travel period in West Africa that includes the popular IDP Study World Exhibitions taking place in Abuja, Accra, Kumasi and Lagos, a number of international officers from UK universities have been receiving rejections to their business visa applications to enter the country.
Other representatives that have held two or three year business visas have also reported having them reduced in length or having them rejected.
Bukky Awofisayo, a senior market leader at Intake, which is now part of the IDP Education group, said, “We have only heard from one partner getting a visa rejection to date and the person has re-applied for a single entry rather than a multiple entry request made earlier.
“We are expecting to receive the exact refusal details to know the cause of the rejection. We will seek to contact the Nigeria immigration office in London to find out more about the visa challenges and the option of visa on arrival.”
Visa problems are an unwanted headache for international recruitment directors at this time of year, as travel plans are often multi-destination to provide maximum support for students at a peak time. Travel funds for hotels, flights and transfers have already been committed.
It is very unlikely private sector recruitment events will offer refunds for exhibition fees based on visas being issued successfully. This responsibility is on delegates as part of the terms of agreement.
Stuart Rennie, a specialist in Africa market entry and managing director at AfaraEd, said he had been contacted by several international teams for assistance.
“I can see from coordinated WhatsApp groups with clients and colleagues that rejections have become an issue,” he said.
“There are cases where passports have been held at the embassy for up to six weeks and returned eventually with no visa. [Without resolution] it could have a direct impact on exhibitions being held in October where UK staff were aiming to travel out to the region.”
Selma Toohey, an executive director at QS, added that “lots of international officers are being refused Nigerian visas and nobody knows why”. While QS events are not scheduled until November there is clearly a concern it is affecting the run of events this October.
The Africa BUILA regional interest group is planning additional in-person events in the region including school visits.
Current RIG chair, Caroline Rushingwa said the situation was “being resolved” when contacted for comment.
It would appear the turnaround times specified by the outsourced visa processing company OIS have been inconsistent for more than a year now, with widespread speculation about the reasons why.
One suggestion is university representatives applying via a visa company appear to be far more successful than individuals who are applying on their own.
Nigeria is one of the five priority countries named in the UK’s international education strategy co-authored by the Department for Business and Trade and the Department for Education.
The recent changes made by the Home Office however, banning international students from bringing family members to the UK as dependants could harm the UK’s appeal in Nigeria.
Nigeria had the highest number of dependants (66,796) of sponsored study visa holders in the year ending March 2023 according to entry clearance visa application and outcomes data.
“We should also be paying attention to staff needing to travel in the opposite direction”
University leaders will be monitoring the January intake closely for signs of decline in interest from the region and if the wider UK appeal has been harmed by the new policy.
“We should also be paying attention to staff needing to travel in the opposite direction,” pointed out Emma Tarrant Tayou, director of the Graduate Guidance Group and former Africa business development advisor for the University of Nottingham.
“Universities have invested in local staff who play a really important role in driving the numbers from Nigeria but I have heard of a number of in-country representatives being refused visas by the UK for essential familiarisation and training visits for the very universities they represent.
“This is the way institutions build knowledge, trust and with their appointed people on the ground. If Nigeria is to be a priority country for UK higher education we need parties to advocate for ease of visa and travel in both directions.”
Rennie, speaking of the services offered by AfaraEd, said “in key markets such as Nigeria it is important to have an on the ground presence where trained local staff can support recruitment. Visa issues can be avoided if universities have dedicated people in the country.”
Have you experienced business visa issues with Nigeria? Have these issues been resolved or are you still needing support? What are your student recruitment plans for the autumn/fall period in the region? You can tell us in the comments below or email [email protected]