A report by SaharaReporters has shown that life for many Nigerians with expired passports in Vietnam has not been easy. Many of them have been unable to carry out meaningful activities as a result.
Getting a residence card, which allows a foreign national to live in the country, has become impossible to many of them. Also, online and physical banking transactions are among some of the things they have been unable to do. And in a few cases, some of them have lost their jobs.
The situation has sent others whose passports are also on the verge of expiring into panic mode, as they do not want the same fate to befall them.
With the new directive from the Vietnamese government to deport foreign nationals without a work permit, fear has gripped many of them with expired passports. They fear that they will lose all they have worked for if help does not come soon.
Some of them recount their ordeals and fear in separate telephone interviews with The PUNCH.
Deborah Aderibigbe said her passport expired in October 2020. She had lost the opportunity to have her visa extended by her school after graduating due to her inability to renew the passport.
She said, "Before my passport and visa expired, I kept going to the Nigerian embassy here all to no avail. My school used to be my visa sponsor and they were willing to help extend my visa for one year after graduation; however, they couldn't do that because I had less than six months validity on my passport as of last August. But because I hadn't finished my studies, they tried to help me get a three months extension with a letter taken to the Vietnam Immigration Department and then, I got the three months till November 2020.
"Around October 2020, I went to the Immigration for another extension, and the embassy gave another letter similar to the previous one, but it wasn't accepted because their law states that we need to have six months validity on our passports to be able to extend our visas and my school couldn't help; they claim that I was no longer their student and not their responsibility anymore."
She added, "The Nigerian embassy here in Hanoi kept telling me to remain hopeful that the pandemic situation would subside, and that they had tried their best to reach officials of the Nigerian Immigration Service in Malaysia, Thailand and Japan to come to Vietnam for our passport renewal, but they didn't oblige the request, because they didn't want to undergo the two weeks quarantine. It is almost one year and they're still giving the same excuse for not coming to renew our passports."
Femi Adebanjo, whose passport also expired in October last year, said, "I haven't been able to renew my expired passport since October 15, 2020, likewise others. Right now, we are hopeless. I cannot conduct banking transactions because I always have to present my passport and valid visa. I no longer have my freedom of movement within the country due to my lack of a valid passport, as it has to be presented at all times.
"We are stuck in our city. We are scared every day because we don't know what will happen next. The embassy gave us a letter, but it is no longer valid. They don't want to see it anymore. They keep saying other countries have found a way, but we have been showing papers in every office.
"I could not renew my passport in Vietnam because the Nigerian embassy in Vietnam was waiting for the Nigerian embassy in Malaysia to come to Hanoi, Vietnam, and do the data capturing. The Nigerian embassy officials in Malaysia could not go because they said they couldn't afford to pay for the quarantine package when they come to Vietnam.
"I was advised to go to Malaysia and renew it, which is impossible because I don't have up to six months validity on my passport; I have just one month and no embassy will issue me a visa to their country. The Nigerian government should help us before we are kicked out of here."
Michael Igbokwe travelled from Vietnam to Enugu in Nigeria to renew his passport but has been unable to go back due to the coronavirus pandemic.
He said, "I decided to come back to Nigeria to renew my passport in Enugu. My inability to get my passport renewed in Vietnam cost me my work. I was paid $1,500 (N700,000) monthly with free accommodation. Now, I am not doing anything here in Nigeria since I got back that can fetch me up to N50,000 monthly. It also costs me the shoes and clothes business I was doing in Vietnam, because I buy shoes, clothes and other things and send them to Nigeria for sale.
"Now, I can't do it again because I don't have the money to do it. I was living a good life abroad because nothing is working in this country. My passport was to expire on January 16, 2021, and I started complaining about it on May 5, 2020.
"The Nigerian embassy was giving me false hope that it would be renewed soon and in October 2020 at most, but nothing happened. So, I left Vietnam on December 15, 2020, but I am unable to go back to Vietnam because of the travel ban due to the pandemic. It has not been easy here, especially when you travel to a good country and come back. The Nigerian embassy in Vietnam is making many innocent Nigerians have bad names. They didn't help Nigerians there and they have to survive by doing anything possible to survive."
Olaoluwa Olatunbosun told our correspondent that she was struggling to renew her residence card, which expired on May 15, 2021, and expressed the fear that she might be kicked out soon.
She said, "I am currently struggling to renew my temporary residence card; I cannot deposit or withdraw money from my bank account. I have to provide new passport details to my landlord so that I won't be kicked out. My card expired on the 15th of this month (May)."
Jude Okonkwo said life had been hellish for him as he was without accommodation and a job because he could not get his passport renewed.
He stated, "My passport expired on October 6, 2020. Life has been hellish for me. I have limited access to basic things I should have access to here. I lost my job, bank access, mobile line and anything that has to do with my residence permit. Right now, I am being accommodated by my friend. I have written to the Nigeria Immigration Service and our two embassies here to no avail since August last year and nothing has been done till now.
"I lost my job on October 30, 2020. The reason is because of my expired passport. To work legally here, he needs a work permit and a residence card, which we call the 'TRC'. Our passport number is tied to these two documents and the length of validity of these two documents is determined by the passport. Immediately my passport expired, both the work permit and residence card became invalid, and no employer can retain or employ someone without a work permit and residency card."
Jessica Chioma, an English teacher, said, "My work permit and passport expired two months ago. Before then, efforts had been made for the passport renewal but due to the pandemic, Immigration officials from Malaysia cannot come here to pick up the passports for renewal. Now, I've lost my job as a result. I beg that I will be given access to renew my passport, maybe online, before I am deported from here!"
Aina Ayotunde, a lecturer in a Vietnamese university, expressed fear that he could forfeit all he had worked for should he be deported due to his inability to renew his passport.
He said, "I can't get my residence card. I can't get a work permit. I can't do online banking. Everything has been crippled. These are prerequisites for an expert to thrive in a foreign land.
"I was told a letter would be given to me addressed to the immigration of my province, which I got, but the letter doesn't carry any weight. What all this means is that I am not well documented with the government here, which in all areas is wrong.
"The most painful thing is that I have been stopped from doing Internet banking as I can't do this without my passport and this means I may not be able to leave with my money if they eventually tell me to leave. The Nigerian government should help us."