Op-Ed by the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr Paul Arkwright
The links between the UK and Nigeria are deep and far reaching and rooted both in our shared past and partnership for the future. Today up to 250,000 Nigerians are living legally in the UK, making a significant contribution and adding to the rich fabric of our society. Every year around 130,000 Nigerians visit the UK from Nigeria for both business and leisure. Nigerians who come to the United Kingdom in accordance with our well publicised rules will always be welcome guests.
So it has been disappointing to read, in a few isolated incidents, inaccurate media reporting of the UK’s policy concerning how we return Nigerians back to their home country when they have been present illegally in the UK.
This week some media reported that 500 Nigerians had been deported from the UK, arriving on one flight to Lagos. Nigeria’s immigration service confirmed to the media that number was incorrect. The actual number was 48 – all of whom were people who had broken UK law by remaining in the UK when they had no right to be there, and who had been given full right of appeal, and had exhausted that legal process. Unfortunately, I fear this will not be the last example of misreporting and I would ask all Nigerians to look with a critical eye when such statistics are presented as facts.
The UK cannot ignore those who choose not to play by the rules. Like Nigeria, the United Kingdom operates a robust but fair immigration system. The law in the UK is very clear: those who are in the UK illegally and have made the choice not to leave voluntarily will be required to leave. Decisions to remove people are not made lightly and we adhere to international obligations – particularly the European Convention on Human Rights – and our own clear domestic law. Decisions made can be appealed and challenged under the scrutiny of an impartial judiciary in court. Fairness and transparency are key. We apply the same rules for Nigerians as we do for any foreign visitor to the UK. The UK has various support packages in place to help those who are illegally in the UK but do decide to leave and return to Nigeria voluntarily. Enforced return of those who are present in the UK illegally is always the last resort and carried out only when the individual has made the choice not to leave voluntarily.
Sadly this issue always gets a lot of media attention when in practice those who abuse the rules are significantly fewer than the numbers of people travelling regularly, legally and without problems to and from the UK. In 2014-15 global demand for UK visas from Nigerian nationals was 168,000. Of these, 73% of visit applications were successful, a rise of 5% from the previous year. In addition, 50% of settlement applications were successful. We are also proud to provide a quick service: 95% of visit visas were processed within 15 days with an average processing time of 7.4 days.
We are pleased that we continue to attract the brightest and best students to our world class universities - with a 17% increase in the number of sponsored student visas applications for universities since 2010. The UK and Nigeria have an excellent commercial relationship with £6.1 bn worth of trade per year. We want the numbers of business people travelling to and from Nigeria and the UK to increase and so support the economies of both our countries. Those who break the rules cannot expect to remain in the UK illegally but the UK is open and welcomes Nigerians who want to visit our country for business or leisure.