US Embassy in Nigeria Denies Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki Visa Application; Won’t Get to Attend Worldcon

Nigerian sff author Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, a 2022 Hugo finalist, will not be able to attend Chicon 8 because the U.S. Embassy in Lagos denied him a visa during an appointment where, he says, they spent only a minute on his application before turning him down.

Ekpeki gives the details and talks about the heartbreak at length in a Twitter thread here.

The cost of his Worldcon trip had been crowdfunded in one day.

This experience with the embassy also throws into doubt whether Ekpeki will be able to attend the 2023 International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA) in Orlando, FL where he is invited to be a Guest of Honor.

Jason Sanford, who organized the Gofundme and provided other help, is outraged. “Ekpeki did everything right to try and attend Worldcon, even worked the near impossible to receive an interview appointment at the embassy (usually those appointments take a year or more to get). And then to be rejected in less than a minute without them looking at any of the supporting info or details!!!”

He has a Twitter thread on the subject here.

Update: Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki later posted the form letter he was handed:

50 thoughts on “US Embassy in Nigeria Denies Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki Visa Application; Won’t Get to Attend Worldcon

  1. This is TOTAL BULLSHIT! I will be writing to my Senator, Sherrod Brown, to see if anything can be done to see if an appeal can be facilitated through the State Department…

    ANGRILY YOURS,
    Chris B.

  2. I am appalled. And I am so appalled I actually did something: I’ve just emailed both of my Senators about this.

    Maybe if other people do that, we can get some movement here.

  3. Do you want to share what you wrote to them? We don’t want to all send identical emails, but it might make it easier for people trying to think of what to say.

  4. SENT to the US Department of State TODAY!
    Hello,
    My friend from Nigeria, Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, has been denied a visa to visit the United States to attend Chicon 8, the 80th World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, IL starting on September 1st.

    He was denied a visa in an incredibly short interview. Mr. Ekpeki, is a rising star in world literature and has been the recipient of several major fiction awards, including the Nebula Award from the Science Fiction Writer’s Association this past May.
    In addition, he is also nominated for two Hugo Awards, for Best Novelette and Best Editor – Short Fiction, the very first African born writer to be nominated in either category in the history of the awards. These awards will be given out at Chicon 8 on September 4th.

    If your office can offer any assistance in helping Mr. Ekpeki appeal the Nigerian Embassy’s determination, it would be greatly appreciated.

    Cordially,
    Chris M. Barkley
    Cincinnati, OH

  5. To All Concerned Filers:

    The Nigerian Embassy can be reached through the following email addresses:
    ConsularAbuja@state.gov or ConsularLagos@state.gov

    PLEASE, do not duplicate my email word for word. Write in your own (respectful) words how distressing you find this situation and why you think Mr. Ekpeki should be allowed to attend Chicon 8.

    Thank You,
    Chris M. Barkley

    ALSO

  6. I tweeted at Secretary Blinken ( @SecBlinken ) on this, with that first one in the thread. It’s not how we should be behaving.

  7. Chris: One important correction — his appointment was at the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria. Not the Nigerian embassy.

  8. Chris’s use of “Nigerian Embassy” should be read to mean “[US] embassy in Nigeria,” not “embassy of the Nigerian government.” The email addresses Chris posted are to the United States embassies in Abjua and Lagos, Nigeria.

  9. I wrote, approximately,

    Hon. Sen…

    We will be attending the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago in two weeks. One thing that happens there is the award of the biggest award in the literature, the Hugo. One of the nominees for the Hugo is Nigerian sff author Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki. He is a well-known, award-winning writer. The expense of his travel was crowdfunded in one day.

    He went to the US Embassy in Nigeria, and they “denied him a visa during an appointment where, he says, they spent only a minute on his application before turning him down.” Presumably they’re afraid he might run away, or overstay his visa?

    I am appalled.

  10. I just emailed this to both California US Senators, and the Representative for the Congressional district I live in.

    I am contacting your office seeking help for Nigerian author Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki to be granted a visa in time to attend the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago from September 1-5.

    He is a finalist for the 2022 Hugo Award, which will be presented to the winners at the World Science Fiction Convention in September, and which Ekpeki is potentially one of them.

    Today he had an appointment with the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria (the office in Lagos, I believe). He reports that after a shockingly brief interaction his visa application was denied.

    Many fans are hoping to meet him for the first time at the Chicago convention. He is a young writer who has in a short time become a finalist for or won many awards in the science fiction field, including a 2022 Nebula Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association (https://www.sfwa.org/).

    His proposed trip to Chicago has already been fully crowdfunded.

    You can find more info in the social media links collected here — https://file770.com/us-embassy-in-nigeria-denies-oghenechovwe-donald-ekpeki-visa-application-wont-get-to-attend-worldcon/

    I would appreciate any assistance you can render in making his visit to Chicago possible.

    Whether it will help, I don’t know, but it’s far better than doing nothing.

  11. Yikes!

    He’s a Hugo finalist in two categories, and is definitely a rising star.

    I’ll be sending letters to the embassy and my two senators.

  12. Just appalling.

    I sent emails to both of my senators and to the US consulate in Nigeria.

  13. I tried both of the email addresses that Chris listed (which are from the State Department page for the US Embassy in Nigeria) and they both got bounced as undeliverable: “The email address you entered couldn’t be found.” (#%^@%@#!!!!!) The one for American citizen services (LagosACS@state.gov) went through.

  14. Illinois politicians to contact; the Worldcon being in Chicago may give them some pull here:

    Tammy Duckworth (Senate)
    Dick Durbin (Senate)
    Bobby Rush (House, Chicago)
    Danny Davis (House, Chicago)
    Mike Quigley (House, Chicago)
    J. B. Pritzker (Governor)
    Barack Obama

  15. Geepers , guess I need to write my Congressman, both Senators and the President.

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  17. I’ve sent email to our senators here in Oregon (both of whom have worked hard against government stupidity), and our US representative.

    I hope that people’s efforts have some sort of effect on this fiasco.

  18. I contacted an influential state politician and former State Department employee who is a first-generation Nigerian-American. Here’s their advice:

    “I would suggest going through the Hugo Awards nominating committee to discuss the issue with their congressional representative at the federal level. If this organization has invited him to the event they should be able to provide support on a visa. You could also have him check in with the Worldcon organizers.”

    Is anyone familiar with a situation where an organization in the U.S. provided support for an invited guest to obtain a visa or how that kind of effort would be initiated?

    They also had this to say about Ekpeki’s achievements in science fiction:

    “That’s wonderful about Mr. Ekpeki.”

  19. rcade: As much as I personally know about is Worldcons issuing written invitations to people which they use to facilitate visa applications themselves. Going back to the one I chaired in 1996, we issued about three dozen to people in former Eastern Bloc countries. Ekpeki also received such an invitation from Chicon 8 (as he says in his post).

    Are there other specifics in the way of support that person you contacted could suggest?

  20. Chris Barkley asked me to post the text of the State Department’s response to his email to them:

    August 18, 2022

    Dear Chris M.,

    Your query would be best answered by the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA).

    Contact information for the CA Bureau can be found here:
    https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/contact-us.html

    Thank you for contacting the U.S. Department of State.

    Bureau of Global Public Affairs
    Office of Public Liaison

  21. Are there other specifics in the way of support that person you contacted could suggest?

    Unfortunately, no. As others contact their elected representatives, I’ve been hoping to find someone influential in public office who is part of the Nigerian-American community in case they can help.

    Here’s the email I just sent Oye Owolewa, the elected D.C. shadow representative to Congress:

    I am writing this evening in the hope you might be able to help Nigerian science fiction author Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki get a visa to come to the U.S. His request for a visa was rejected after a perfunctory interview at the U.S. Embassy in Lagos.

    Ekpeki was nominated for two Hugo Awards — the most prestigious award in his field — and sought to attend the Worldcon convention in Chicago from Sept. 1-5 where the award winner will be announced.

    Like you did with your election as the D.C. shadow representative, Ekpeki is making history. He’s nominated for two awards that have never been won together by an African or by a BIPOC person. Fans raised $7,400 in a crowdfunding effort to enable him to travel to Worldcon.

    I know this situation is occurring outside your constituency, but I was hoping that as a Nigerian-American holding a public office, you might be able to help Ekpeki or direct me to someone who could.

    Thank you for your time.

    I invite people to use any of this with their own wording adjustments in their own efforts to correct this terrible injustice.

  22. So I got busy. I stole Chris Barkley’s letter and send it, suitably edited, to my Senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and to my Congressman, Derek Kilmer, for whom I am campaigning.

    I am hoping they will help.

  23. The Worldcon Committee needs to contact Congressman Bobby Rush, who is the Congressman for Chicago. He is very much an immigration advocate, and being a POC, he will probably have some sympathy for Epeki. His website email appears to be only good for constituents, of whom I am not.

  24. If the UK’s example is anything to go by, the most effective way to get a visa decision looked at again is to get press coverage if you can.

  25. This. Stinks.

    Thanks to all of you who sprang into action to help. Unfortunately “my” senators and rep are jerks likely to applaud the embassy’s action.

  26. Just got this response from the Embassy:

    “Thank you for your email.

    Individual refusals under Section 214(b) cannot be reviewed, appealed or overturned, but they are not permanent.

    He is welcome to reapply through our website at http://www.ustraveldocs.com/ng if he believes his circumstances have changed or he is able to present additional, compelling evidence of his socioeconomic ties to Nigeria or his reason for travel to the United States.

    Please note that Consular Officers are not required to review all documentation he presents, and that as the applicant, he alone has the responsibility to establish his eligibility for the visa.

    Sincerely,

    Consular Section

    U.S. Embassy | Plot 1075 Diplomatic Drive

    Central Business District | FCT Abuja, Nigeria”

  27. Mm-I’m appalled. Whatever about Chicon 8, if he can get –from the UK High Commission (=Embassy in Commonwealth countries) in Lagos– permission to attend 2023 Eastercon/Conversation (UK NatSFCon: Hilton Metropole Hotel NEC, Birmingham : Fri 7-Mon 10 April), I’ll cover his membership fee thereat. best to all and BCNU at Chicon 8.

  28. In addition to the Chicago politicians listed above, here are a few more House members.

    Robin Kelly
    Marie Newman
    Jesus Garcia

    And you should write your letters as if the politicians have absolutely no idea what Worldcon or the Hugo Awards are, which I’m sure most of them don’t.

  29. Paul Eisenberg is a news editor at the Chicago Tribune who wrote a story in January about the 2022 Worldcon being held in Chicago. He’s also a science fiction fan.

    I sent him an email at the address included at the bottom of the Tribune story I linked. I hope others will do so as well.

  30. I have reached out to some non-traditional contacts to see if there might be a back door that would lead to an expedited review.

    It is a good idea to have a sense of scale about this issue.

    For FY2020, the US received over 140000 Nigerians on business/pleasure visas. The DHS suspects that roughly 10000 of those visitors overstayed their visas and remained in the US. That is a rate of roughly 7%. [Page 18]

    The total suspected overstay rate for the same year (all visitors from all Non-VWP countries) is 2.22%.

    The embassy is supposed only issue visas for people that will return home after their visit to the US. They are looking at an individual’s information based on large groups of people to establish the profile for who will/will not overstay their visa.

    Another factor is that while Worldcon is important to us, it really isn’t a big deal on a national scale. While attending it is very important to Mr. Ekpeki (and to genre fans like us), it doesn’t register on the list of issues that are important to the entire US.

    Hopefully, someone will contact a person that is in a position to provide an expedited review of the case so Mr. Ekpeki can make it to the con.

    Regards,
    Dann
    I’ve loved reading all my life. – John Wayne

  31. @Steve Davidson: that form letter is an “apply again and we might get to it, sometime within the next decade, maybe” reply, or, in SF context, a “beware of the leopard” sign.

    Ekpeki will not get his visa that way.

    Someone with power at State has to override the decision, and that needs a public outcry and calls from people with political clout, like Senators.

    People writing politicians need to say that Worldcon is a world wide event involving thousands of attendees that help the Chicago economy, and that Ekpeki’s visa denial is politically as well as economically harmful to the United States. Pointing out that the next convention is in China might help, especially if Ekpeki can get a visa for Chengdu now (the Chinese government wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to make friends in Nigeria).

  32. The US Embassy in Nigeria sent me the following email this morning (August 19, 2022)

    From: Consular Abuja • ConsularAbuja@state.gov
    To: Chris M. Barkley

    Thank you for your email.

    Individual refusals under Section 214(b) cannot be reviewed, appealed or overturned, but they are not permanent.

    He is welcome to reapply through our website at http://www.ustraveldocs.com/ng if he believes his circumstances have changed or he is able to present additional, compelling evidence of his socioeconomic ties to Nigeria or his reason for travel to the United States.

    Please note that Consular Officers are not required to review all documentation he presents, and that as the applicant, he alone has the responsibility to establish his eligibility for the visa.

    Sincerely,

    Consular Section

    U.S. Embassy | Plot 1075 Diplomatic Drive

    Central Business District | FCT Abuja, Nigeria

    They seem to be doubling down on their stance. But the rather rapid response from the State Department tells me that this sudden rush of support for Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki MIGHT be working.

    Keep making them sweat, folks…

    Chris B.

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  34. Oh, yeah, someone else who might be a bit personally interested in this:

    Kamala Harris

  35. Just spend 1/2 hour trying to navigate the webpage for Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) — it’s set up for people requesting help with visas, but you have to know personal details about the applicant. Finally, I just called the office directly and left a voice mail. I’ll be reaching out to Senator Dick Durban, too, and will try to back up the voice mails with direct emails. Message (after leaving my contact info) was approximately as follows:

    “I was hoping you could help with something that is time-sensitive.

    The World Science Fiction Convention, which hosts the internationally-prestigious Hugo Awards, is coming to Chicago in less than two weeks. This is a great honor for our city. One of the nominees for that award is Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, who has been nominated for (and in several cases, has won) a number of other prestigious international awards over the years, including the British Fantasy Award (winner in 2021) and the Nebula Award (winner in 2022). If you’re unaware of these literary awards, let me assure you they are a Big Deal.

    Mr. Ekpeki has been trying to get a visa to the US in order to attend the ceremony, and after jumping through many administrative requirements (including getting an interview at the US embassy in Nigeria, something that normally takes a year to arrange), he was denied a visa after an interview that lasted less than a minute, in which it’s unclear that the deciding official reviewed Mr. Ekpeki’s supporting documents. The letter given to him denying him the visa does not even acknowledge that the reason for Mr. Ekpeki’s visit was that he could receive an international honor.

    If your office can offer any assistance in helping Mr. Ekpeki appeal the Nigerian Embassy’s determination, it would be greatly appreciated.”

  36. Not sure if there is enough time to do it, but he might try for an O-1 visa for people with extraordinary abilities.

    Regards,
    Dann
    Money is the root of ALL Evil! Send $20 for more info

  37. I wrote to Maryland Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Representative David Trone, using Mike’s letter as a starting draft and adding these two short paragraphs after the opening sentence:

    This is important enough to me that I’m taking the time to write to you for two reasons. The first reason is that the denial of his application is so patently unjust as to be a national embarrassment for the United States. Ekpeki will almost certainly mature into an author of such global stature that our embarrassment will last for generations unless the matter is put right. There are so many national embarrassments we can no longer avoid that it is worthwhile to prevent the ones we can.

    The second reason is that science fiction is one of the most fruitful fields of endeavor in which to imagine and explore new solutions to our most dire problems, and to warn of problems to come. Ekpeki’s presence in any room makes the possible conversations there smarter. It would be a positive good for the United States and the world if he were able to make this trip.

    Feel free to use or adapt as you wish.

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  39. If you’re one of the people who wrote your senators and representatives about this, check your inbox and spam filter for replies. I heard back from one of mine this morning. With a little paperwork, his office is willing to write the embassy a letter of support for Ekpeki’s reapplication.

    Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, or at least someone on his staff and over his signature, replied with instructions, which I forwarded to Chris Barkley and he forwarded to Ekpeki. I’m trying to phone the staffer the letter told me to follow up with. I have questions that may apply to getting support from other elected representatives. If I find out anything that might be useful for folks in other constituencies, I’ll share what the staffer tells me. And then I’ll phone my other senator and my House rep, who haven’t replied to my email so far.

    Meanwhile, if you’re also one of Sen. Van Hollen’s constituents and you feel so moved, thank him for his interest.

    Has anybody else heard back from their congressbeings?

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