Well-educated professionals from Nigeria are turning their eyes to Canada after the U.S. expanded its visa and travel bans
Nigerians have become central figures in the most heavily reported Canadian migration story in recent years, as the largest cohort streaming through Canada’s most controversial entry-point: the ditch at Roxham Road, in small-town Quebec, that became a magnet for asylum seekers.
More quietly, though, Nigerians are playing a significant role in this country’s overall immigration story: the numbers of people arriving through conventional channels—mainly as skilled workers—have spiked, nearly tripling since 2016. Canada now brings in more permanent residents from the west African country than it does from major traditional sources like Pakistan and the United States; in 2019, the flight of upper-middle class professionals like doctors and tech workers, along with their families, helped put Nigeria behind only India, China and the Philippines and as source countries for Canadian immigration, federal data show.
Now, this trend seems sure to accelerate thanks to that key disrupter of global migration patterns and norms, Donald Trump.
Last week, the Trump administration expanded the U.S. travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries to block or restrict immigration visas from four African states—Nigeria, Eritrea, Tanzania and Sudan—as well as Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar. As usual, the Department of Homeland Security dresses these bans up in bureaucratic language about vetting and national security. But it’s not lost on anybody that, amid his many hostile public rants about foreigners, the president has grumbled to aides that tens of thousands Nigerian visitors would never “go back to their huts” in Africa.
These new restrictions will still allow Nigerians and others to come to United States on tourism or student visas—unlike the full clampdown on people from Iran, Syria and other countries Trump targeted in 2017—but prohibit the foreign nationals from obtaining permanent U.S. status through green cards. It’s most serious ripple effect is occurring in Nigeria, heavily populated yet oil-rich, with a burgeoning professional class. “New U.S. travel ban shuts door on African’s biggest economy,” a New York Times headline notes.
Johnson Babalola, the Nigerian-born managing partner of a Toronto immigration law firm, says he’s received a sharp uptick in inquiries from Nigerians this week. But they’re not all from Africa. A number are coming from Nigerians who live south of the border, including students and even professionals who already have U.S. green cards.
Why are Nigerians who’ve already securely immigrated to the U.S. suddenly wary? Because this new ban shuts the door to family reunification. “If I’m a green card holder and I can’t even bring in my spouse or my children or other relatives, then that’s tough,” says Babalola. “So you ask yourself is there somewhere I can go to that’s more open?
“Canada, quite frankly, is the obvious choice.”