On Wednesday, August 2, 2017, the President of The United States, Donald Trump, confirmed a new regulation to reduce legal immigration to his country and evaluate visa applications based on merit, with a preference for people with higher education or advanced job skills. Applicants with advanced degrees, particular skills, or job offers will receive preferential treatment. The measure, which represents a dramatic overhaul of the current American immigration system, will lead to a significant decrease in the number of green cards issued to immigrants. It will also eliminate some benefits enjoyed by prospective immigrants with family members already based in that country.
The changes, which would represent the fulfilment of an election campaign pledge for Mr. Trump, are favoured by top White House aides Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. Both men have often pushed the president to embrace a more nationalist agenda. Their arguments have often been that while high-skilled foreign workers can help stimulate the American economy, low-skilled immigrants can suppress wages and job opportunities for U.S.-born workers, particularly those in blue-collar jobs already under threat from globalisation.
As draconian, exclusionary and undiplomatic as the proposed law may come across to most critics of the Trump administration not only in America but across the globe, for most Nigerians it may do little to affect our emigration hungry tendencies and may even offer opportunities – or so says Richard Omolade, who has lived in the U.S. for seven years.
“Nigerians are the most educated group of immigrants in the USA,” Omolade said. “So they can be gainfully employed and contribute financially to the economy.”
Omolade’s opinion may not be far off, if the data is to be believed.
Nigerians currently account for the largest percentage of African migrants to the U.S., almost 19 percent of the total. Data has also shown that we are among the most successful and high achieving immigrants in that country. According to a recent census, almost forty percent of Nigerian Americans hold a bachelors’ degree, seventeen percent hold a master’s and four percent hold doctorates. This is higher than any other ethnic group in the U.S., according to Roderick Harrison, a demographer at the Joint Centre for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington, D.C. think tank. The trend looks set to continue as the 2016 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange (IEE) showed that there were 10,674 Nigerians studying in the U.S. during the 2015-16 academic year, the highest in three decades.
It is thus safe to say that being the hardy folks that they are, most potential Nigerian migrants would be undeterred by the law, finding loopholes or going ahead to become skill-ready; as in the case of Obehi Uwa, a staff of the Nigerian Immigration Service, who plans to emigrate to the United States next year. Despite a degree in Geology and an armload of “skilled” work experience that should ordinarily improve her chances of emigrating under the new laws, Uwa has registered for, and embarked on a course in nursing. That degree, she believes, will help her fit into one of the most lucrative sectors of the American economy for migrants – healthcare.
However, this is only true for the already educated, high-achieving Nigerians. At the other end of the spectrum, there are the Nigerians who emigrate, in search of the opportunities that they were not afforded here – such as a chance of getting a good education. In the current system, immigrants can depend on sponsorship on relatives that already live in the U.S. The proposed merit-based system will more than likely put an end to this.
Ada Udeh, who is on her way to the U.S. thanks to the current system, is understandably worried that the proposed law may affect her.
“Personally, I wouldn’t migrate to any country just to depend on taxpayers’ money to collect food stamps without equipping oneself with the necessary or skills,” Udeh said. “There’s a place and job for the educated and non-educated. I think the law is skewed because most real Americans will not do the jobs migrants do.”
Olayinka Talabi, a Nigerian-American who moved to the US in 2007 thanks to the Diversity Lottery Program agrees with Udeh.
“Trump claims immigrants have stolen ’their’ jobs but the true question is, how many Americans are actually in the work force?” Talabi asked.
“It is a few of them who are working. Most of them drop out from school, join the military because of benefits attached to it, or go into entertainment, or do other things.
“In short, skilled jobs is not their calling, rather they want fast and quick money. I am not saying that some of them don’t actually have the skills, but based on my unscientific research, I have found out that most Americans that are skilled and actually ’work’ have an ’immigrant blood’ in them.”
Unfortunately for many Nigerians who have had it with their native land as a result of the current economic downturn, this pivot by the Trump Administration could not have come at a worse time. Nigeria has been experiencing its first recession in a quarter of a century, and the current trajectory is very similar to the period in which the last recession occurred, which points to an increasing exodus of skilled and highly educated Nigerians. The US is not the only destination for fed-up Nigerians. There are stories of really desperate Nigerians and other Africans, making the dangerous trek through the Sahara Desert to get to Europe. Gory pictures fill social media of many who lost their lives, dying of thirst and heat stroke among others. The statistics show that Nigeria now contributes the highest number of migrants on the Trans-Sahara route. In spite of this, the more determined Nigerians are undeterred and always in search of better and surer, if not safer, options.
The current destination of choice for the so-called “merit-worthy” Nigerians is America’s neighbour, Canada – due to its relatively less strenuous immigration policies. Canada is also a target for those seeking to get educated in North America. Still, the U.S. remains the land where dreams supposedly come true, and still remains a coveted final destination for most. There are many who burning with desire would jump at any little loophole afforded by the proposed law, if it is ever passed, and in the long run, Nigeria will be worse for it all.
Nigerians will continue to explore creative measures to leave their fatherland because the fundamental reasons they are leaving their home country have not changed.
So, while we worry about the laws of other climes and how they affect us, the more pressing focus for those Nigerians disinclined to migrate, is how the country can better itself to prevent the loss of their skilled countrymen to begin with. That so many of them, at the same time, will consider the worst ‘opportunities’ abroad, is not a position a working nation should put her citizens in. Maybe, the Nigerian government can take a page from Trump’s book – no matter how discriminatory and undiplomatic it may come across – and make Nigeria great again or better still, put Nigeria first.