By Florence Amagiya
EDDIE ONYEKA Esq., is the founding Partner of HARVARD CHAMBERS, with offices in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and the United Kingdom. He is reputed to be the pioneer and foremost immigration attorney in Nigeria.
HARVARD CHAMBERS has been involved in the practice of immigration for over 15 years and has a long line of clients for whom it handles immigration appeals and applications, particularly before the Immigration and Asylum Tribunal in the UK.
What is your take on the United Kingdom 3000- pound visa bond?
I want to say that over the years the entire immigration policy of the UK has been undergoing a lot of changes in such ways that even those who are abreast of the UK immigration laws and rules find it difficult to keep pace with the changes that come out all the time. Now, this proposal to charge 3000 pounds is a continuation of the process the present government introduced since they assumed office. Before now there were a lot of changes and some were worse than this. My take is that it is illegal and discriminatory.
The changes are not across the board; only a few countries including Nigeria are affected. Isn’t that discriminatory?
I want to say that this policy is illegal and discriminatory to say the least. It stands in violation of the United Kingdom’s Human Right Acts of 1998. It is against the letters and spirit of Articles 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Right Act of Britain, 1998. The Human Right Act of 1998 was adopted and it provides a right not to be discriminated against on any grounds such as race, colour, language and nationality. If you bring out a visa policy that says Nigerians, Ghanaians and some other selected countries should deposit a certain amount, then it is discriminatory because what you have done is to discriminate against Nigerians and nationals of a few other countries in a visa process that doesn’t affect the other nations. And to that effect, it is clearly illegal, it is discriminatory and it is clearly against the Human Right Act of 1998.
This is not the first time in recent times that the British Government has skewed its immigration policies to operate in a discriminatory manner against Nigeria and some selected countries. For example, there is a recent requirement that a Nigerian applicant intending to settle in the UK with his spouse must either be a graduate or pass an English Language test supervised by the British Council. If an applicant is not a Nigerian but, say, from Slovenia, Bulgaria or many other non-English speaking countries, such applicant will not be required to be a graduate or to pass any English language test.
What redress is open to Nigeria?
The Nigerian Government must realize that this practice puts Nigeria and Nigerians on the spot and in bad light and tends to strip Nigerians of the respect, honour and integrity that are inherent in human beings. If unchallenged, it may open a floodgate for other countries to follow. We can do it on two major platforms: at the level of the Government, there must be a robust and sustained political and diplomatic opposition from the Nigerian Government. The Nigerian Government should be able to bring it as clearly as they can to the British Government that this position is not acceptable.
All options must be on the table, including applying the principle of “reciprocity”. The Nigerian Government has the right to adopt the policy of reciprocity; in which case the Nigerian Government makes it mandatory on the British people to do same when they want to visit Nigeria. There also can be a platform for a lot of media activities and at the end of the day, the Government is not able to contain and to maintain a position until we get the desired result that the nation requires.
At the individual level, it is also open for visa applicants and their sponsors in appropriate cases to challenge this policy in the appropriate tribunals and courts in the UK. It necessarily has to be in the UK courts as Nigerian courts are lacking in jurisdiction. Of course, the matter is not justiceable in any court in Nigeria. In other words, the Nigerian courts are lacking in jurisdiction to inquire into it. My office has filed cases on behalf of some Nigerian spousal visa applicants at the Immigration Tribunals in the UK challenging some of these illegal practices and it will be interesting to see how the Tribunals will resolve this matter.
How can this be done?
Of course, like l said before, the matter is not justiceable in any court in Nigeria. The Nigerian courts are lacking in jurisdiction to invoke and to inquire into it. But an applicant in appropriate cases can challenge the matter in the appropriate courts in the UK. It is possible, for instance, that the immigration laws and rules can be litigated on, but in the proper courts or tribunal. A visa applicant in Nigeria who is denied visa can, in an appropriate court, appeal the decision for refusing that visa. You don’t appeal in Nigeria; you appeal in the UK. If you make an application and they make paying of 3000 pounds bond visa fee a condition for giving you and by your failure to do so, they denied you the visa, then it means that you can challenge that denial in the tribunal in the United Kingdom. As l speak to you, my office is handling thousands of visa applications and appeals. You are not going to file any matter in a court in Nigeria, it has to be done in the UK. You can question that policy referring to the Human Right Act of 1998. So, if you are denied visa because you are unable to deposit the visa bond fee and you feel it is discriminatory against you, then you can appeal the case via an immigration lawyer who can go for your appeal in the United Kingdom.