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In Nigeria, six people fall into poverty every minute, and almost half the total population of 200 million live in penury.

Yet 30 million more may slip into the “extreme” poverty grind by 2030, warns the World Bank, as the country may become home to 25 per cent of the world’s poorest unless there is both economic growth and employment boost.

Escaping abroad, partly to dodge hardship at home and partly to widen their worldview, is popular among Nigerians, particularly the middle class.

They prefer to ship off to safe and stable English-speaking countries, where the trajectory of life is somewhat predictable – the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.

But the UK has just enacted Brexit that makes it more inward-looking. And free country America is tightening its immigration noose, with Nigeria feeling the heat.

There was a 21 per cent drop in U.S. visas granted Nigerians in 2019.

Africa’s top oil producer is expected to expand its economy by 2.1 per cent in 2020 and 2021, the World Bank said in its recent Nigeria Economic Update.

That is below the country’s 2.6 per cent population growth rate.

Costly inaction

The World Bank urged President Muhammadu Buhari to increase domestic revenue, remove trade restrictions and improve the predictability of economic policy.

It also repeated its recommendation to Abuja to remove fuel subsidies and reduce Central Bank lending to targeted sectors that crowd out banks.

“The cost of inaction is significant,” the World Bank said.

“Under a business-as-usual scenario, where Nigeria maintains the current pace of growth and employment levels, by 2030 the number of Nigerians living in extreme poverty could increase by more than 30 million.”

Nigeria overtook India in 2018 as the country with the largest number of people in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank.

Nigeria’s economy is still recovering from its first annual contraction in 25 years in 2016 that resulted from a collapse in crude prices.

And it could slide back into recession if crude prices fall by 25 per cent to $50 a barrel, the World Bank warned

Nigeria’s drop in visitors to the U.S.

Nigeria recorded the largest global drop-off in visitors to the U.S in 2019, according to data from the U.S. travel and tourism office.

That means the travel measures taken against Africa’s most populous country by the U.S. last year are bearing full impact, which may be long-term, says Quartz Africa.

Some 34,000 Nigerians travelled to the U.S. as of October 2019, a 21 per cent drop compared to 2018.

After consistent growth between 2011 and 2015, the number of Nigerian visitors to the U.S. began to level off in 2016, in the run up to the big drop in 2019.

The second largest drop of 17.7 per cent was for visitors from Venezuela, a country gripped by economic and political crisis which has seen more than four million people flee. The U.S. is restricting entry to Venezuelan migrants.

The dip in Nigerian visitors to America followed visa clampdown in Washington targeting Africa’s largest economy.

Last year, America suspended indefinitely its visa interview waiver for Nigerian applicants, which allowed frequent travellers renew their visa without going through in-person interviews each time.

Visa application fees were also raised by including additional “reciprocity fees” ranging from $80 to $303 depending on the class of visa.

Abuja immediately slashed visa application fees for American applicants in order to get Washington to reverse its decision, but the reciprocity fees remain in place.

The measures followed reports that the U.S. was looking to impose visa restrictions on countries whose citizens have a record of overstaying their visas.

Nigerians were the highest ranked African country for U.S. visa overstays in 2018.

Warning signs

Even though official data confirms the effects of the measures, there were already warning signs the policies were having an adverse impact on potential travellers.

Last year, the U.S. embassy in Nigeria was forced to deny a widespread rumour that it had banned issuing visas to Nigerian students.

The tougher visa stance has especially hit middle class Nigerians who are increasingly emigrating amid fears of economic uncertainty at home.

Nigeria’s once promising economy has remained mired in sluggish growth since a 2016 recession while unemployment continues to climb.

With many middle class professionals searching for alternatives, the number of Nigerians seeking legal immigration to the U.S., the UK, and especially Canada, has shot up since 2015.

Despite the hurdles, the U.S. remains a popular destination for Nigerian students seeking foreign degrees, with spending by Nigerian students in the U.S. reaching $514 million in the past academic year.

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