The Effect of The African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement on Immigration Permits in Nigeria

The African Continental Free Trade Area (“AfCFTA”) is a trade agreement between African Union (“AU”) member states, with the main objective of creating a single continental market for goods and services.[1] The AfCFTA also aims at fostering a customs union with free movement of capital and persons.[2] The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement is expected to create the largest free trade area in the world measured by the number of countries participating. The pact connects 1.3 billion people across 55 countries with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) valued at US$3.4 trillion.

Under the AfCFTA, it is expected that expanded markets and unobstructed factor movements – labour, goods, services, capital and persons – should promote economic diversification, structural transformation, technological development and facilitate quality job creation. The full implementation of the AfCFTA would eliminate all tariffs, likely to generate welfare gains for Africa estimated at around $16.1 billion, even after deducting tariff revenue losses. The implementation of the AfCFTA is expected to contribute to the growth of Africa’s GDP by 1%, total employment by 1.2%, Intra-African trade grow by 33% and Africa’s total trade deficit to be cut in half. If successfully implemented, the AfCFTA could generate a combined consumer and business spending of $6.7 trillion by the year 2030[3].


The AfCFTA and Migration in Africa

One of the key freedoms that integration agreements such as the AfCFTA seek to establish is the ability of people to move freely between the countries that are parties to the integration. It is expected that a single African market will provide a conducive environment for easing professional mobility and skills portability.

There is immense potential for the continent to exploit, considering that the majority of African migrants choose to stay on the continent and 70% of sub-Saharan migrants move within Africa. However, for many businesses operating in other African countries, it is often easier to employ a skilled non-African expatriate than a skilled African expatriate due to the burdensome nature of obtaining work permits for African expatriates although in Nigeria, the situation is different as the same requirements apply to both African and non-African expatriates.  However, the eligibility criteria for a visa for skilled workers are considered too demanding, focussing on formal education levels rather than proper work experience.


AfCFTA And Visa On Arrival Policy

Nigeria, in its desire to implement the terms contained in the African Free Trade Area Agreement, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, on December 12, 2019, introduced the Visa on Arrival (“VoA”) policy for African countries and stated the effective date to be January 2020. Nigeria has come up with Nigeria Visa Policy which adequately address this implementation.

With the VoA in place, all African Passport Holders are allowed entry into Nigeria and the issuance of a VoA[4]. This move was partly aimed at encouraging free circulation of people on the continent in line with the AfCFTA.

What this essentially means is that African migrants would no longer require a Combined Expatriate Residence Permit and Aliens Card (“CERPAC”) to work and live in Nigeria. Although a good step to having a continental integrated economy, there is no doubt that the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) would lose a considerable amount of revenue from the issuance and renewal of permits such as CERPAC and Temporary Work Permits.  Prior to President Buhari’s announcement on the VoA policy for African countries, it is worthy to note that the VoA had been in place albeit only applicable to frequently travelled high net worth investors, directors of multinationals and other people in that category with the main purpose of attracting high volume of investment into Nigeria.

This facility ensures that as soon as payment of appropriate fees are made and other requirements are complied with, a business visa is issued. However, with the practical steps taken to implement the AfCFTA, it would be interesting to see how far this implementation will go with respect to other African leaders.



Unlike other economic zones such as the European Union, Africans have found it challenging to freely travel the continent for residence, business, tourism, and education. It has been observed that Africans can only get a visa on arrival in 25% of other African countries and that North Americans have easier travel access to the continent than Africans themselves.[5] Equally, free trade has been significantly impaired, in that, businesses, goods and services cannot move freely within the continent because of huge customs tariffs and unnecessary delays at the borders.

It would be interesting to see how the AfCFTA will be practically implemented, considering that ECOWAS, a regional economic community has not been able to foster and achieve its target for over two decades. Indeed, despite the fact that Nigeria has ratified the AfCFTA Agreement, it is still yet to be domesticated.[6] There is need for political will and a pan-African vision among African leaders to see the full implementation of AfCFTA and the Protocol if the target must be achieved.


An article courtesy of

Kunle OBEBE – Managing Partner at Bloomfield Law Practice



[1] Article 3(a)

[2] Article 3(d)


[4] Note that this applies only to other Africans who would ordinarily require a visa. It does not affect  citizens of visa-exempted countries like ECOWAS citizens.

[5]Okunade & Ogunnubi, “The African Union Protocol on Free Movement,: A Panacea to End Border porosity” (JoAUS) Vol. 8, (Issue 1), April 2019, Pp 73-91.

[6] Section 12 of the Constitution states that an International treaty entered into by Nigeria will not have automatic application in the country unless the treaty has been domesticated by an Act of the National Assembly.

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