Overcoming the visa hurdle for African citizens – Part 1

The world is getting increasingly hard to navigate. And COVID has just added a new challenge to freedom of movement. But well before the pandemic, OECD countries had been for years tightening their requirements on the granting of visas to citizens from certain countries. The visa hurdle is a particularly harsh reality for African citizens wishing to travel to Europe for business, education or pleasure. Political correctness finds itself at odds with this thorny issue, so mainstream media tries to avoid the subject.

This two-part article aims at first understanding the problem and sketching a solution (Part one); followed by exploring the range of practical options (Part two).

The elephant in the room

Africa, as a continent, has by far the highest rate of Schengen visa refusals. There are only six countries in the world with a Schengen visa refusal rate superior to 45%, and they are all African countries. Top of the list is Guinea with a staggering 51% of refusals and Nigeria with 48%; followed by Senegal (45%), Algeria (43%), and Ghana (42%). Out of the 20 countries with the highest refusal rate, 15 are from the African continent. The other five are Iraq, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran and Haiti.

The situation creates a challenge for the citizens of these countries who wish to visit Europe. They face a barrage of paperwork and red tape. Every travelling endeavour becomes time consuming, uncertain and frustrating. This is echoed by many professionals working with African high net worth clients. They report a rise in hurdles trying to obtain Schengen or UK visas. Alexandre Amosu, a British/Nigerian luxury serial entrepreneur and the Founder of Lux Afrique, a leading luxury lifestyle management company for the African continent, says: “Part of our activity is to provide the African elite with a memorable experience while travelling to the UK or Europe. And in the past few years, we have been witnessing a severe tightening of visa rules. This is especially true for our compatriots in Nigeria just wanting to holiday in Europe. It’s a worrying trend, and I am afraid that only those with suitable second citizenship get rid conclusively of this hovering burden”.

No sign of immigration rules becoming more clement any time soon

Guinea, a country that hosts the world’s largest reserve of bauxite and that is also rich in gold and diamonds, endures the same problem. Its many successful local contractors and entrepreneurs face similar problems when they want to travel abroad on business or holiday with their family. Similar stories reverberate throughout Africa where businesspeople and affluent professionals are unfairly hampered in their access to global mobility.

Furthermore, the problem is only going to get worse. Demographic pressure, pandemics, terrorism, economic migration and the rise of nationalism and populism, force European governments to get tougher on immigration. The immediate collateral damage of that stance is the access to short-stay visas: the Schengen Visa for mainland Europe and the standard visitor visa for the UK. In 2019 alone, over 15 million visitors traveled around Europe with their Schengen visa. But the global refusal rate has steadily increased over the last three years (8.2% in 2017, 9.6% in 2018, 9.9% in 2019).

Where there is a will, there’s a way

While the tightening trend is undeniable, people have been looking for solutions. Fortunately, several options are available for people who are ready to embrace the global citizen lifestyle. Depending on their needs, financial means and family situation, three main routes lead to the travelling freedom already enjoyed by Europeans, Brits, Americans, Canadians and the citizens of most OECD countries. Several countries have opened their citizenship or residency to foreign investors without requiring them to leave their own country. Some of these programmes have been around for over 30 years; others have just recently been launched.

In short, the solution boils down to obtaining a second citizenship or a residency card that allows African citizens and their family to travel, send their kids to university and even immigrate visa-free in the countries of their choice.

A life-changer

For Africans who have acquired second citizenship, their new passport has been a life-changer. Though no official statistics are available, according to a recent article published in June in The Economist, wealthy Africans are rushing to acquire foreign passports, and citizenship specialists report this year a sharp increase in the number of inquiries coming from Africa. We are witnessing the same trend at Shorex Capital. Activity in our African desk for citizenship programs has more than doubled compared with last year.

The main options

Our next article will look at various second citizenship and residency programs. We will start by exploring the more affordable Caribbean passports, which are great mobility tools for visa-free travel. We will follow with European residency programs, analysing costs, benefits and limitations. Finally, we’ll wrap up with the holy grail: European passports. Becoming an EU citizen is the ultimate choice for those committed to giving total freedom of movement to their loved ones, with a lifetime ‘open door’ to move to Europe.

Updated 13/07/2020