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Greener Pastures Why Canada is now the destination of choice for Nigerian migrants

Instead of the United Kingdom and Trump's America, Nigerians seeking greener pastures are now leaving to Canada. There are good reasons why.

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play Asylum seekers wait to enter Canada at an unofficial crossing. (Washington Post / Geoff Robins/ AFP/ Getty Images)

For many millions of Nigerians, that the grass is even slightly greener on the side is enough reason to the cross the fence. As you would expect, it is the middle class who are looking to start new lives outside the country's shores. As the United Kingdom and South Africa were in the past, Canada is where hopeful families have set their eyes and embassy trips upon.

The conditions that are inciting many to leave in droves have been the same for years. Despite massive oil wealth, basic conveniences are lacking. The gap between the rich and the poor is as wide as ever, so much that commentators have posited that the Nigerian middle-class is actually a myth.

Amenities like education and electricity are hampered by poor infrastructure, deep-rooted corruption and inadequate funding.

The present administration has been adjudged sub-par by most of the public, even as it is expected to win coming elections, thanks to the President's strong following in his northern base.

The perpetuity of Nigeria's problems has left most Nigerians with little belief that things can get better. While the lower class have storified the Libya Route to Italy and Europe, wealthier Nigerians prefer the conventional channels to Western countries.

For many, like Ezekiel, a 41-year old manager at a media company, Quartz reports, it is a matter of giving their children opportunities that Nigeria's outdated educational system will not afford them.

In recent times, Canada has usurped the United Kingdom and Trump's America to become the destination of choice for most economic immigrants from Nigeria.

play Vice President Yemi Osinbajo holds bilateral talks with Canada's PM, Justin Trudeau (Nairaland)


There is good reason for this. Canada has an ageing population. To offset the imbalance and increase the workforce, the country created an Express Entry system for skilled workers in 2015.

Factors like the applicant's age, education level, proficiency in languages and work experience are used to consider their eligibility for the program. The application process typically takes about 6 months and successful participants get a permanent residence permit.

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In the last few years, the number of Nigerians who have applied successfully has increased more than tenfold. And it seems like the trend will continue. Canada has no cap on the number of people who can apply and the program is open throughout the year.

The opportunity is still very present; Canada hopes to admit 85,000 skilled migrants by 2020; in the first two years, over 43000 applicants have been admitted, yet not everyone takes what most Nigerians see as a simple, legal route.

Nigerians, and people of other nationalities, armed with their visitor visas to the United States, are crossing from upstate New York through the Canadian border into the province of Quebec to seek asylum.

Last year, 5,575 Nigerians sought asylum in Canada; records state that in the first three months of 2018, more than half of the 5,000 asylums seekers who crossed the Canadian border were Nigerians.

The anti-immigrant stance suggested by last year's Brexit vote and the tough rhetoric of Donald Trump's America have left many Nigerians with the understanding that they are not so welcome in two of the top choices for economic migrants in the past. Canada, on the other hand, has continuously sent the message that it will welcome those fleeing persecution, terror and war, regardless of their faith.

play Asylum seekers who are steps away from Canada listen as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police tells them they will be arrested as they cross over from New York state, north of Plattsburgh (CBC News)


This clear attitude towards those fleeing poor socio-economic conditions and conservative oppression has led many Nigerians to seek asylum with claims of persecution by Boko Haram terrorists and sexual orientation.

In the last few months, however, the numbers have increased exponentially; for example, 68% of Nigerian seeking asylum claimed to be bisexual compared to an average of 12% for other nationals. It has led to suspicions that these claims may be fabricated. To check the number of asylum applications, Canada recently asked the United States to be stricter with awarding visitor visas to Nigerians.

Applying for asylum doesn't carry any guarantees of entry. The cost of getting into the United States on a visitor visa and crossing the border is quite steep.

Applicants for the Express Entry program also have to cover heavy costs. The basic application fee costs 800 dollars.

As with most of these programs, applicants also need to prove that they can provide for themselves; a requirement which they satisfy by showing evidence of funds ranging from 9000 dollars to 25000 dollars, depending on how many people are entering the country, as individuals or a family.

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The IELTS, a test of proficiency in the English Language which all applicants must take, costs 75,000 naira per sitting.

play Nigerians in Canada protest the abduction of the Chibok girls. (The Eagle Online)


Despite these costly requirements, many of those who have made it there, like Tobi, an I.T specialist who originally moved to Ottawa to get a master's degree, are intent on getting through "the difficult initial process of finding your feet".

Most of them are certain that it is a one-way trip and if as long as they have a choice in the matter, they are in Canada to stay for good.

This trend of emigration from Nigeria to countries like Canada is reminiscent of another very similar chapter in Nigeria's history.

In the 1980s, young Nigerians, intellectuals, skilled workers and entire families left the country in droves to flee harsh economic conditions and repressive military government.

As with then, many are convinced that there is no way forward.

For this new generation of emigrants, those who left in the first wave are a reference point. Considering that many from that wave and their children are excelling in the countries they moved to, and offering a side of the Nigerian story that has been assisted by fair opportunities, it's difficult to convince them that to stay in Nigeria would be the right choice.

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