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The African Travel Ban

Seven days after his inauguration, the President signed a controversial “Muslim travel ban” that targeted people seeking to enter the United States from several countries with majority Muslim populations. This ban was modified after a number of court challenges, and Venezuela and North Korea were added to the list of affected countries, while Chad was removed. The Supreme Court, by a narrow 5-4 majority, with all the Republican appointees voting in the majority, wound up upholding the revised ban in 2018. At the end of 2019, the list of banned countries included 7 nations: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Venezuela, and North Korea.

In January, 2020, during the ongoing impeachment of the President, the administration presented a new travel ban, adding six more countries to the list, bringing the total to 13. This ban, which is really a ban on immigration, rather than travel per se, covers Nigeria, Tanzania, Eritrea, Sudan, Kyrgyzstan (a central Asian republic formerly part of the Soviet Union), and Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). The ban, which went into effect on February 22, 2020, precludes issuing visas leading to permanent residency for nationals from Nigeria, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, and Myanmar. With regard to Sudan and Tanzania, it precludes issuing “diversity visas” which are available by lottery for people applying from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.

Critics of the new ban have described it as an “African ban” because 4 of the 6 countries covered are located on the African continent and represent a significant proportion of the total population of Africa, and most of the people who would potentially be affected by the ban are Africans. Although it is certainly true that most of the countries covered by the new ban are African, it is also true that at least 5 of the 6 countries have large Muslim populations, and the sixth country has an ongoing refugee crisis involving a Muslim minority.

Sudan and Kyrgyzstan have large Muslim majorities, while about half the citizens of Nigeria and Eritrea are Muslim. Tanzania also has a large Muslim community of 13.45 million, or about 29.9% of the population, according to the statistics for 2014. The final country, Myanmar, is predominantly Buddhist (about 90%) but has an ongoing refugee crisis involving a group of Muslims known as the Rohingya, which UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has described as “one of, if not the, most discriminated people in the world.”

The Trump administration has justified the new travel ban on national security grounds, but many question this basis, and whether the new ban will do more harm than good. Among other issues, some question whether the new ban will fuel concerns around the world that American immigration policy is now based on racial and religious discrimination. Of particular concern is the effect which this ban may have on relations with Nigeria, an up and coming power with the largest population and economy on the African continent, at a time when China, Russia and Turkey are trying to expand their influence on the continent.

African countries in general, and Nigeria in particular, have been a target of the President’s disdain for some time. During a 2017 meeting in the Oval Office, he reportedly stated that the 40,000 Nigerians admitted on visas during his watch would never “go back to their huts” in Nigeria after seeing America. During a later immigration meeting in 2018, he reportedly referred to Haiti, El Salvador, and nations in Africa as “shithole countries.”

The Administration has attempted to justify its efforts to limit immigration from Nigeria, the largest country and economy in Africa, by citing concerns about the country’s security standards, heightened terrorist threats, and a need to improve Nigeria’s information sharing with the United States and Interpol. Many Nigerians, however, question why they have been singled out for this treatment when many other countries with similar issues have not, and resent being placed on a list with such “pariah states” as Myanmar (a country widely condemned because of its treatment of Rohingya refugees, thousands of whom have been killed or displaced by state forces) and Eritrea (a country which has been likened to Cuba, East Germany and North Korea). Moreover, the current ban is limited to people seeking immigration visas (green cards), rather than visas for temporary stays for education, business, tourism or medical care. Terrorists are more likely to enter the country on short term visas which are easier and quicker to obtain than green cards. According to, all but one of the 19 terrorists involved in the 9/11
attack came here on tourist and business visas.

Nigerian immigration benefits both countries. Nigerian-Americans are the most highly educated ethnic group in America, and one of the most successful. They provide large numbers of health care professionals at a time when the United States has an aging population which requires more medical care. There are currently about 60,000 Nigerian health care workers in the United States, working as physicians, nurses, nurse assistants, and personal care aids, and their participation is important in maintaining our health care system. African immigrants in general tend to have high employment rates, pay taxes, and support programs such as social security through their contributions. They also send money home to friends and family, reducing the need for foreign aid.

Maintaining good relations between Nigeria and the United States is also mutually beneficial. Nigeria is America’s second largest trading partner in Africa and cooperates with the United States on matters of national security and terrorism, and the importance of this relationship will no doubt increase in the future. If current trends continue, Nigeria will surpass the population of the United States within 30 years to become the third most populous country after China and India. In fact, some experts are now saying that Nigeria resembles China before its economic take off. According to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Nigeria recently purchased $500 million of combat aircraft from the United States, which underscores the economic and security ties between these two countries.

Nigeria is working with the United States to address the issues which allegedly resulted in Nigeria being included among the countries covered by the new travel ban. Hopefully, it will soon be removed from the list. But it is not clear that the current administration is sensitive to the consequences of its immigration policies, and how they may be perceived around the world, especially in the context of blatantly racist comments attributed to high ranking government officials.


Lara Jakes, The New York Times, 2/4/20, Nigeria ‘Blindsided’ by Trump Travel Ban, Its Top Diplomat Says,

Peter Beinart, The Atlantic, 1/27/20, Trump Targets a New Group of Immigrants,…

Stephanie Bsari, CNN, 2/3/20, Nigerians shocked after Trump extends travel ban,

Sam Hill, Newsweek Magazine, Black China: Africa’s First Superpower is Coming Sooner Than You Think, 1/15/20,

New American Economy, 2/10/20, How Could the New Travel Ban Hurt the U.S. Economy?,

BBC, 2/1/20, US travel ban: Nigeria’s Buhari to comply with Trump’s new visa rules,

Jaya Padmanabhan, The San Francisco Examiner, Trump’s travel ban ignores the Nigerian success story,

Jamell Bouie, The New York Times, 2/4/20, The Racism at the Heart of Trump’s ‘Travel Ban,”

Noah Smith, 10/13/2015, It Isn’t Just Asian Immigrants Who Thrive in the U.S.,

Alex Nowrasteh, 1/31/2020, Cato At Liberty, There Is No National Security Justification for the New Immigration Ban,