By Emmanuel Ogebe
The year 2020 has seen a slew of immigration policies issued by the US government that tend towards xenophobia.
In May, President Trump’s Executive Order halted new H-1B, H-2B, J and L nonimmigrant visas “to protect American Jobs”.
In truth, this “actually harms American jobs because nearly half of all Fortune 500 Companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Revenue brought in by these companies is $1.1 trillion more than Japan’s entire gross domestic product and $2.1 trillion more than Germany’s GDP,” writes Immigration Attorney Mark Ashley.
“Immigrants account for approximately ½ of all U.S. patents and own 25% of all small business. Immigration has been America’s secret sauce. America would not be America without the contributions from immigrants clinging to the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Diversity has made America Great.”
Apple the company whose value exceeds the GDP of many countries was founded by Steve Jobs born to Syrian immigrants. The Kardashians are also of Syrian immigrant descent.
Melania Trump is probably the first immigrant and newly naturalized First Lady of the US who came to America under the visas her husband has just suspended for others.
Interestingly president Trump himself is arguably from the newest immigrant family to be president. His immigrant mother became a naturalized US Citizen in 1942 making him a first or second generation immigrant depending on which conflicting account of his ancestry you accept. The point is if prior presidents had imposed some of the visa restrictions he now has, his family and First Lady wouldn’t be in America today!
In January, Trump had issued an executive order banning immigration from six countries. With regard to Nigeria, he stated, “ Nigeria does not comply with the established identity-management and information-sharing criteria… Nigeria does not adequately share public-safety and terrorism-related information (for) public safety of the United States (and) presents a high risk, relative to other countries in the world, of terrorist travel to the United States.”
The ban on immigration from Nigeria is particularly deleterious to US public health security. In 1993, the UN Human Development Report said over 21,000 Nigerian doctors practiced in the US (Some reports claim this number has since doubled).
One in four doctors in the US are immigrants and one in three nurses are immigrants. Nigerians reportedly comprise up to 50% of Black doctors in the United States!
Given the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed the lives of 130,000 Americans (25% of global deaths though the US is only 4% of world population) overwhelmingly medical infrastructure, more, not fewer immigrant medics are needed.
One hospital in New York lost 30% of its staff to COVID19. Going by that data, almost the entire immigrant factor of 30% nurses/25% doctors would need to be replenished just to reach pre-COVID-19 levels!
Trump stated further that, “Nigeria is an important strategic partner in the global fight against terrorism, and the United States continues to engage with Nigeria on these (but) not yet resulted in sufficient improvements in Nigeria’s information sharing with the United States.”
A few quick points suffice here.
Firstly, no Nigerian immigrant has ever been involved in terrorism in the US. Conversely, last year’s terrorist attack in the US was by one of over 200 Saudis training with the US military. Yet Saudi Arabia, 19 of whose citizens killed 3000 Americans in the 911 terrorist attacks is not banned by the US as Nigeria is. Both attacks were by Al Qeda.
Similarly last year, Nigeria’s former President Obasanjo, when I asked if he had received intelligence reports from the US when they invaded Afghanistan, that they found amongst the foreign fighters, alongside Alqaeda Leader Bin Laden, several Nigerian citizens, was visibly surprised.
At the Wilson Center in Washington, General Obasanjo said that he never received any such intelligence about Nigerians in Afghanistan from the US. This notwithstanding that Obasanjo flew to Washington to personally console President Bush after the attacks. Therefore the US itself has failed on information sharing to Nigeria!
This brings us to the latest immigration policy of the administration requiring international students to leave the US if their school is offering online-only classes next semester. Students may stay if universities and colleges offer hybrid online/in-person classes. According to immigration Attorney Miriam Abaya, “this past spring and summer, ICE had offered schools an exemption so international students could remain in the US for all-online classes in light of COVID. Despite the fact that the US has not adequately addressed COVID and continues to see ballooning cases, they have decided not to continue with this exemption.”
“International students often do not get financial aid (and) must pay all of their tuition up front–sometimes they have to do that to get a visa. Many students have raised funds or gotten donations or loans from home for this next semester, only to potentially have to go back to their home country.. and many have a whole community come behind them to get a US-based education.”
There is significant loss to the US too. 11,000 Nigerian international students attend schools in the US bringing in over half a billion dollars annually.
11,000 students is the equivalent of a good sized university. Therefore, they create employment and funding for the equivalent of an entire university system or three community colleges.
The US has the world’s largest population of international students of over 1,000,000 – 5% of America’s student population. Nigerian students who comprise 1% of the 1 million international students pay half a billion dollars in fees!
International students help subsidize educational costs for American students who pay much lower fees than they do leading to active competition for foreign students by many countries.
The United Kingdom proposed a visa restriction on Nigeria but it was reversed within days after the new government was made to realize the hundreds of millions of pounds injected into the UK economy by Nigerian international students. The amount paid in fees to UK universities exceeds the entire national budget for education in Nigeria.
The US and UK are amongst countries including Turkey who aggressively market their universities in Nigeria. Every year, upwards of 50 US universities send staff to Nigeria to participate in educational fairs to recruit Nigerian students to study in America!
Sending hundreds of thousands of international students home means fewer consumers renting houses, shopping & injecting much needed funds into the economy.
But the policy is a global health hazard for multiple reasons.
With the mismanaged pandemic response, the US is now the global epicenter with three million COVID19 cases. Dispersing hundreds of thousands of international students around the globe as potential vectors could significantly ramp up a resurgence abroad.
It portends grave public health risks in the US too if schools are forced to hold in-person classes just so international students can remain along with their precious tuition dollars. This is a bad policy all round for America and the world.
As if things were not already bad enough, the US Customs and Immigration Service in the Department of Homeland Security is shutting down at the end of this month due to lack of funds.
How could such a critical US government agency be broke? The reason is quite simple. Trump’s visa bans stopped the flow of funds coming in to fund the USCIS from applicants abroad. Combined with the COVID19 lockdowns that have crippled global travel has no more money and workers are being furloughed.
The path forward is simple. As the six-month visa bans expire next month, the US must not renew them and should rescind the new bans through the end of the year. The international student exemption should also be reinstated.
America needs both the financial value, fees and medical assistance that immigrants and foreign students bring now more than ever.
US Nigeria Law Group, Washington