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Nigeria working to have US travel ban lifted - foreign minister

Speaking at a joint news conference in Washington with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Onyeama said Nigeria was ‘blindsided’ by the US decision on Friday to add it and five other nations to an expanded version of the US visa ban.

Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama speaks to the press with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (out of framen) at the Department of State on 4 February 2020 in Washington, DC. Picture: AFP

WASHINGTON - Nigeria has begun working on the security and information-sharing requirements for the lifting of a US travel ban on prospective immigrants from the African nation, Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama said on Tuesday.

Speaking at a joint news conference in Washington with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Onyeama said Nigeria was ‘blindsided’ by the US decision on Friday to add it and five other nations to an expanded version of the US visa ban.

US President Donald Trump issued an expanded version of his travel ban on Friday as part of a presidential proclamation which said Washington would suspend the issuance of visas that can lead to permanent residency for nationals of Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar and Nigeria.

Temporary visas for tourists, business people, students and workers from those nations will not be affected, it said.

US officials said the countries failed to meet US security and information-sharing standards, which necessitated the new restrictions.

“We’ve identified all those requirements and we had actually started working on all them,” Onyeama said. “It was very gratifying to come here, speaking to US officials and to understand more clearly the reasoning behind this.”

Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa, is the biggest country on the list whose citizens will be suspended from US visas that can lead to permanent residency.

Pompeo also said Nigeria could do more in sharing important national security information, adding that he was ‘optimistic’ that Abuja would move in that direction.

He said some of the areas were security measures taken with regards to passports and information about criminal histories and suspected terrorist information being made available.

“With regards to lost and stolen passports, we’re putting in place the architecture that will now make that – the information and the data on that - immediately available to the U.S. and all the member states, member countries of Interpol,” Onyeama said.

He added that once all the criteria was met, Nigeria was looking forward to being taken off this visa restriction list. He did not predict a time frame.

The original travel ban, issued in 2017, barred nearly all immigrants and travellers from seven countries with majority Muslim populations. The policy was revised amid court challenges, but the US Supreme Court ultimately upheld it in 2018.

Trump has made tougher immigration enforcement a central focus of his 2020 re-election campaign. His travel ban policy is popular with Republican supporters.

The new travel ban will take effect on 21 February, according to the proclamation.