How Visa Facilitators Scramble, Mop Up Visa Appointments Online to Swindle Nigerians has been revealed.
Newsonline reports that illegal visa facilitators who provide Nigerians US visa interview appointment dates at exorbitant fees spend days browsing the internet to mop up available dates, book and sell same to applicants seeking to obtain visa interview appointments with the US embassy, THISDAY investigation has revealed.
Although illegal, the venture has become a source of livelihood for many, especially young Nigerians who secure makeshift locations around the embassies in Lagos to woo visa applicants who patronise them sometimes out of ignorance or desperation.
The online newspaper spoke to many of the facilitators who said all they do is to stay online 24 hours a day and grab visa application dates made available by the US Consulate.
Recently the US Country Consular Coordinator, Susan Tuller accused these facilitators and travel agents of illegally manipulating visa appointments in Lagos and extorting Nigerians who are made to pay outrageous fees for visa interview appointment dates.
According to Tuller, “One of the problems that we have with being able to increase the visa appointments is that our visa appointment system is manipulated by the visa facilitators that function here especially in Lagos. So unfortunately visa facilitators, travel agents and some others manipulate our visa appointment system for their own financial gain. And even though in Lagos they operate in the parking lot next door to our consular operations, we really have little control over that, because they are not operating on our property and we can’t police them ourselves.
“Unfortunately the visa facilitators here operate with impunity, they operate for financial gain, and as long as they are allowed to do that and as long as Nigerians continue to pay the very high fees to them to get an appointment, that will likely continue and it makes it very hard for us to really control the number of visa appointments that we make available. So before we talk about the specifics, I really want to reiterate that there is no reason to pay any additional fees to a visa facilitator or a travel agent.
“Right now there are thousands of appointments available for this new interview renewal programme. They are available online right now and as long as you meet the criteria and follow the procedures, there is no reason to pay somebody to get that appointment. One of the real challenges with paying somebody or the appointment is that the visa facilitators use fake information to book these appointments. So then when you buy an appointment from them, you don’t know what information they have put in the system. Once the information is entered into this system, this system is part of your consular.”
The facilitators in their makeshift locations at the car parks and adjoining buildings around the US Consulate at Walter Carrington Crescent, told THISDAY that they charge applicants between N250, 000 to N500, 000 fee for B1, B2 (tourist) US visa category.
Pretending to be an applicant, THISDAY requested for a date from one of the facilitators who identified himself as Joseph.
“I will charge you only N250, 000. Before the drop box (US interview waiver programme) opened we collect N500, 000. The reason is that we follow the same process with B1, B2, just as you came. But this one I can accept N250, 000 from you because of the main fact that you are a little bit worried. We don’t collect any money from you unless we get that date. So when we secure the date for you and you see it, then you can pay us. If you don’t pay us, we cancel it,” he said.
Another facilitator told THISDAY that what they are doing was not illegal and said that it does not hurt US in anyway; “if I did, the US would not allow it.”
The facilitator also denied that Nigerians who work in the US Embassy help them, insisting that no one can penetrate US Server; that every visa appointment date they have access to are made available on the internet by the Consular office.
“Nigerians who work in the embassy don’t engage in such practices because they are well paid. Before one month they can collect up to N6 million. So how much are you going to give to them? People that work there, majority of them are Nigerians because they have an agreement with the Nigerian government. They cannot just come and employ their people alone, but in the customer’s section, the visa section and the consular sections are manned by Americans,” he said.
The facilitator also explained the process they use to obtain and sell visa application interview dates.
“For you to get a date, you have to pay your visa fee. It is the visa fee receipt number and your data page (your international passport) and the bar code of the application form that you have filled online, that is the one that we will to create a profile, user name and password. That is what we will use to book a date for you, so that the date in your appointment and the barcode number in your GS160 form will tally. If it does not tally they will not allow you to enter,” he explained.
Meanwhile, National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) denied the allegation that its members were involved in US visa appointment manipulation.
NANTA President, Mrs. Susan Akporiaye called for caution on such comments against travel agents.