The United States Embassy in Abuja has denied 'blocking' visa interview dates for prospective Nigerian applicants interested in travelling to the U.S.
The embassy stated this on Wednesday in response to enquiries by PREMIUM TIMES about reports on Nigerians who are unable to secure appointment dates for visa interviews despite paying the official fees.
On August 20, the Punch newspaper published a report which alleged that "Nigerians can't get U.S visa appointment dates despite payments." In the report, the newspaper said Nigerians applying for visas to travel to the United States are in a fix as they have not been able to secure appointment dates for interviews, despite the payment of appropriate visa fees and additional charges of between N58,000 and N200,000.
Official fees for the different classes of visa range between $160, $190 and $265.
The report said student visa applicants are compelled to pay a separate $350 "service fee."
The report said applicants who visited the U.S. Embassy website to complete Form DS160 applications for business/tourist visas were informed there were no available dates for visa interview appointments earlier than November 19, 2019.
The Punch said even where applicants managed to make payments online in their search for appointment date, they were often diverted to a consultant's website hosted by CGI INC.
Regardless, applicants would end up being told there were no available dates for visa appointments, without any mechanism for a refund to the disappointed applicants.
The development, the report said, appears to have left innocent applicants at the mercy of exploitative agents, who extort as much as N60,000 and N100,000 for 'fixing' interview appointment dates.
When PREMIUM TIMES sent an official inquiry to the U.S. Embassy Counselor for Public Affairs, Aruna Amirthanayagam, his response did not offer any respite for the applicants over the situation.
"Thanks for your inquiry. There has been no block on visa interviews. There are interview appointment opportunities available," Mr Amirthanayagam said.
Amidst the complains, on Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy introduced what it called a 'reciprocity visa fee' regime for Nigerians seeking to travel to the United States.
The new visa fee regime announced by the embassy was said to have followed a similar increase imposed by the Nigerian government on Americans seeking to travel to Nigeria.
The new fees for the various categories of U.S. visas range between $80 and $110 (about N28,800 to N39,600).
Following the U.S. announcement, the Nigerian government announced on Wednesday that it was reducing visa fees for Americans.
It is not clear if Washington will reciprocate the gesture and return its visa fees to what they used to be.