Mayowa Okediran: Examining The New Immigration Regulations of Nigeria

On Monday, March 20, 2017, the Minister of Interior (MOI), Abdulrahman Dambazau, introduced the new immigrations regulation, which replaced the 1963 version. According to him the new regulation takes modern developments such as technology and terrorism into consideration. The document, titled the Immigration Regulations 2017, caters to business and residence permits, entry processes, and the registration of foreign nationals.

The move by the Ministry of Interior to modernize the immigration laws is laudable. Yet, one cannot overlook a number of flaws that may have crept into the new regulations, which could emasculate the good intentions of the ministry in opening up the country’s landscape for healthy business. Some of these are highlighted below.

Frequent Renewal of Business Permits

The new regulation mandates foreign nationals to renew their business permits periodically. Since foreign nationals apply for residence permit separately, the expiration of business permits is independent of residence permit.


Continued renewal of business permits will create redundancies, which could easily be eliminated by issuing the business permit once or increasing the length of their validity. Since the regulations currently only support 90 days validity for business permits, it means that foreign nationals will be required to continuously file for renewal every 90 days. Bearing in mind that renewal of business permits is not free in Nigeria and may take up to two weeks, frequent renewals can be construed as the government’s desperate attempt to feed off foreign nationals.

Restricting Movement in West Africa

The new regulations surprisingly require that Economic Community of West African State nationals undergo some registration. This is setting the clock of Africa’s progress back by several decades. In 1979, The ECOWAS through the Free Movement of Persons, Residence and Establishment Protocol proposed that citizens of member states were free to enter, reside and establish economic activities across regions in West African territories without any restrictions. The protocol was enacted in 2000 and the ECOWAS passport became the acceptable document among the member states. This passport otherwise known as the ECOWAS travel document allows citizens of member states to travel and reside unhindered across territories of member states.

If the Ministry of Interior upholds this new regulation, it will be undermining the efforts of past West African leaders and directly breaking the protocol that promotes free movement across West African states.


The request that foreign nationals carry a certificate of registration will lay grounds for victimization and extortion of foreign nationals, both of West African and non-West African descent.

Similarly, mandating landlords to keep records of their residents or guests gives the government undue power to swoop in on people’s residences in the name of the law demanding registration documents.

Work Permits and Expatriate Quota

One brilliant move by the MOI was creating the Temporary Work Permit (TWP), which allowed foreign nationals to work in Nigeria for a period of two to three months with a possible 30-day extension. This Temporary Work Permit is not related to the expatriate quota, which deals with much longer commitment and a range of expertise. The expatriate quota provides permission for expatriates to work in Nigeria and defines the number of expatriates a company, whether locally or foreign-owned, can have.

Companies will still need to apply for work permit for their expatriates. The MOI gives the requirement for any company to request expatriates and the expatriate quota may be determined by the size of the share capital of the company, which must be at least 10 million naira. Foreigners may also request for a stay of action letter, which would ensure they are not deported while they process their expatriate quota working permits.


It should be pointed out that the requirement for obtaining expatriate quota by the companies sufficiently limits new and upcoming companies from accessing foreign expertise.


Inspection and Compliance Checks


The unprecedented increase in the offences and penalties for violations of these new immigration regulations will result in an increase in compliance checks. It becomes a hindrance to the meditated progress when crackdowns on possible offences become the norm. Foreign nationals are easily targets of harassment as several are construed ‘wealthy enough’ to qualify for extortion. Others may take into cognizance the Nigerian companies that employed the foreign nationals.
Such substantial fines and threats of imprisonment take away the security that foreign nationals require to embrace Nigeria’s attempt to become more open to foreign investment. It contradicts the proposed freedom the new regulations were meant to uphold.


Despite some of the anomalies in the new regulations, the country seeks to make great
progress in some of these areas.


Investor Visa, Resident Permit and Visas On Arrival

In a move that eases up immigration procedures, all foreign nationals will now have access to the visa-on-arrival option. Nigeria Visa on Arrival is a class of short visit visa issued at the port of entry, valid for a single 14-day stay. These foreign nationals must however possess the visa-on-arrival letter, which is usually issued by the Nigeria Immigration Service Headquarters in Abuja and commonly obtained by the host of the foreign national.

The Ministry of Interior encourages investors by allowing them permanent resident status as long as they maintain a minimum investment threshold. This opens up Nigeria for more investment opportunities. The regulations are however silent on the kind of investment, the length of such investment or the minimum required investment that will qualify an investor for the permanent residence status. The ministry has to be clear and open about this to cement its bid to open up the country’s landscape for business opportunities.


The Nigeria Immigration Service has also increased the length of validity of resident permits from one year to two years, before a renewal is required. In addition to this, the new regulations allow foreign nationals who have pending resident permit applications to re-enter the country within the first 90 days of their entry.

The new regulations hope to improve business activities in the country, but it may just be undermining its own efforts to do so. Some of the brilliant developments in the regulations are marred by the unavailability of clear-cut details that determine the qualification of foreign nationals’ privileges. They may also be affected by the numerous offences and inspections that are inherent in these new regulations.

The government should review some of the flaws and take adequate steps to ensure its regulations actually foster economic growth rather than hinder it.

Olumayowa Okediran is a scenario planner, a policy fellow at the South African Institute of Race Relations and Assistant Director of International Programs at Students For Liberty