Missing piece: Biden Africa summit must tackle visa delays

by MMC
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This week, President Joe Biden is accommodation The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the first gathering of African leaders and a U.S. president in Washington since 2014. The White House and State Department will host high-level discussions on everything from the power of the diaspora and creative industries to trade and investment. climate and food security – all important priorities.

However, any discussion of visas, an issue of primary concern to African governments, businesses, civil society organizations and citizens across the continent, is missing from the official agenda. Allowing Africans to travel to the United States for educational, business, and cultural reasons not only benefits them, but also improves U.S. global competitiveness.

The summit is expected to address the issue of visas head on. It is time for the United States to demonstrate to African leaders that it truly cares about visa bottlenecks and is committed to improving the processing problems that plague the current system. Nigerian entrepreneurs seeking to enter the United States for meetings with investors may find themselves facing an absurd two-year wait to obtain a visa and, therefore, have the opportunity to do business with Americans. Some have even turned to third countries, such as Romania, to obtain visas in time for their business meetings.

Traveling to the United States has been particularly difficult since the September 11 attacks, and the Covid-19 pandemic has made the problem worse, sending average wait times to inexcusable lengths. Follow the process of obtaining visa appointments in Cairo, Kinshasa and Lagos, the African continent’s most populous cities and important business hubs. The State Department currently estimates waiting 98 days in Kinshasa, 119 days in Cairo and 666 days in Lagos. While these numbers may seem astonishing, they were much worse just a few months ago. Progress is underway by hiring new Foreign Service personnel to speed up consular processing, but the problem still requires more attention.

The negative impacts of such delays on American competitiveness are real. Visa uncertainty is hugely disruptive to key U.S. industries like tourism and higher education; a family from Lagos will choose to go to Dubai rather than Disney World. And although student visas have been slightly less affected by Covid-19 disruptions, interviews conducted earlier this year were socket five times longer to program than before the pandemic. Such delays discourage African students from studying at American universities and cede valuable ground to competitors in the education field. In 2014, China overtook the United States in hosting the largest number of English-speaking African students, with enrollment numbers rates growing by 258 percent between 2011 and 2017. China announced 50,000 scholarships for African students in 2018, and the 2022 African Youth Survey found that 76 percent of young Africans view China as having the best the greatest positive influence In the region. And it’s not just a question of perception. Open Doors, a research and advocacy group focused on international students, found that three American jobs are created for every seven international students in the United States. While in the country, African students take taxis, buy computers and eat at restaurants, all while contributing to economic activity.

Visa issues are at odds with those of the Biden administration desire to “foster new economic engagement” at the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit. Venture capital investment has been one of the highlights of U.S.-Africa trade relations over the past four years. Nearly two-thirds of the twenty largest venture capital deals in Africa include American investors. Moreover, according to According to the African Private Equity and Venture Capital Association, investors based in North America account for around 40 percent of all venture capital deals in Africa. As a global company goes coldit will be even more crucial for the Biden administration to make it as easy as possible for U.S. investors to consider African opportunities, including making it easy for Africa’s best and brightest entrepreneurs to travel to the country.

The summit provides the Biden administration with a unique opportunity to advance cooperation with African partners on shared global priorities. Of course, there will be speeches promising deeper trade ties and investment targets. But improving trade requires the free movement of goods, capital and people. Turning bold visions into reality requires getting the details right. Visas are a fundamental prerequisite for enhanced engagement. The Biden administration is right to recognize that “Africa will shape the future” and that global competition for investment, talent and influence across the continent is fierce. If Washington is to remain a partner of choice in business, education, and cultural collaboration, serious efforts must be made to welcome Africans to the United States.

Aubrey Hruby is a non-resident senior fellow at the Africa Center, co-founder of Insider and the Africa Expert Network (AXN), and an active investor in African start-ups.

Image: Reuters.

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