Day 6

Why Trump's expanded visa ban might be a boon for Nigeria's burgeoning tech sector

The Trump administration's newly expanded visa restrictions preclude Nigerians and several other nationals from permanently immigrating to the U.S. Nigerian tech entrepreneur Iyinoluwa Aboyeji says Silicon Valley has a lot to lose.

'The U.S. could stand to lose more from not having this talented demographic,' says Nigerian entrepreneur

Iyinoluwa Aboyeji is a Nigerian technology entrepreneur currently based in Silicon Valley. Recent immigration policy changes will prevent him from permanently immigrating to the U.S. (Submitted by Iyinoluwa Aboyeji)

Nigerian tech entrepreneur Iyinoluwa Aboyeji has made Silicon Valley his global business base for several years now, but he may not be there much longer. 

Late last week, U.S. President Donald Trump's administration announced it's adding six more countries to its immigration ban list — including Nigeria — citing national security concerns.

After arriving in the U.S. on a special talents visa, Aboyeji married an American in 2018 and planned to apply for permanent residency.

"Unfortunately, I can't do that anymore due to the ban," he told Day 6.

The U.S. said it would suspend the issuance of visas that can lead to permanent residency for nationals of Nigeria, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, and Myanmar effective Feb. 21.

Homeland Security officials said they arrived at the decision after evaluating countries for identification and information-sharing standards. 

Aboyeji, who studied at the University of Waterloo, is by all standards an overachiever. 

His first tech startup, Andela, acquired $24 million in funding from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. His second venture, a payment transaction company called Flutterwave, amassed a funding of $15.7 million to allow African vendors to do business globally. 

At just 26, he made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2018.

Now, Aboyeji says he's considering other destinations for his next business base outside of Nigeria. 

"Canada is a very popular option for most young talented Nigerians, although for entrepreneurs it's not as friendly," he said. "London seems to be much more friendly for entrepreneurs from Africa." 

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said Homeland Security officials would work with the affected countries on bolstering their security requirements so they can get off the list of countries with visa restrictions. (Cedar Attanasio/The Associated Press)

'The beginning of something beautiful'

Aboyeji says Silicon Valley hosts a significant number of skilled Nigerian tech workers. Denied the possibility of permanent residency, some of those Nigerians will likely choose to go home to their country's growing tech sector, he said. 

"The Nigerian technology ecosystem has basically grown into one of the top ones in the world. There's a huge opportunity for some of these talents that have been turned away by the U.S. to go home and make a real impact," he said. 

"I don't think it's a sad story entirely. I think it could be the beginning of something beautiful." 

According to a report by the Centre for Global Development, Nigeria's tech sector has grown from less than one per cent of GDP in 2001 to almost 10 per cent in 2019. 

Silicon Valley losing a lot of talented Nigerian talent is definitely not good for the ecosystem.-Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, Nigerian tech entrepreneur

Economist Vijaya Ramachandran, who co-authored the report, says Nigeria has positioned itself as a hub for a burgeoning tech scene on the African continent. 

"The tech sector in Nigeria is very dynamic ... very exciting," she told Day 6, pointing specifically to the success of health and financial transactions technology companies.

"It's attracting the local population from within Nigeria, but also from Europe and the U.S."

The 2019 report did point out, however, that there are several limiting factors for tech companies in Nigeria, including lack of access to electricity and finance.

Commercial offices are seen on the city skyline beside the Ogun River in Lagos, Nigeria. (Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Silicon Valley stands to lose

Aboyeji says the immigration ban is as much a loss to Silicon Valley as it is to the Nigerians working there. 

"The reality [is] that most people will need a global base to do global business. And particularly with my generation of Nigerians, this is super important," he said. 

But, "the U.S. could stand to lose more from not having this talented demographic," he said. "Silicon Valley losing a lot of talented Nigerian talent is definitely not good for the ecosystem." 

Countries around the world are seeking greater engagement with Africa's ripe tech talent, Aboyeji added. 

"There's a lot of interest in Africa from all over the world — from the English, from the Chinese, from the French, from the Germans. And it's not a good time for the U.S. to not be in play." 

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