Saudi Arabia requires biometrics for visa applicants in 2010

July 1, 2009 9:11 am 

MANILA, July 1 — The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has upgraded its requirements for visa applicants in 2010, introducing fingerprinting and full-face digital photographs for security reasons.

In preparation for this project, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called for international tenders that would set up a network of centers in major cities worldwide to provide biometrics services to visa applicants.

It is not known if such a center would be established in Manila.

Maj. Gen. Salim Al-Belaihed, Director-General of the Passport Department, urged all foreign workers now in the Kingdom to get their biometric data registered as soon as possible to avoid snags at re-entry.

“The fingerprinting process will take no more than five minutes. You should make sure that you do not have any decoration (such as henna), or any cuts or other markings on your fingertips before having your fingerprints taken,” one security source said, adding that one should also make sure that there are no cuts or bruises on his/her face.

In Jeddah, the three fingerprinting centers are located in Dalah Street in Rehab District, Saudi Oger Company in the Corniche District and Abruq Al-Raghama District. Each center can serve 2,000 people everyday.

The centers work in two shifts, the first is from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the second is from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Mobile fingerprinting centers are also dispatched to hospitals and large companies with over 600 foreign workers

The new move comes after the United Kingdom introduced the system for visa applicants. The UK embassy in Manila has such a system here.

The UK was the first European Union member country to adopt biometrics and has so far rolled out the procedure at its visa issuing centers in many countries worldwide.

The Saudi Council of Ministers instructed the Foreign Ministry to sign a memorandum of understanding with the UK to facilitate taking biometric data of Saudis and expatriates intending to visit Britain.

Prince Khaled bin Saud, Undersecretary at the Ministry, said “authorized biometric centers would receive visa applications on behalf of Saudi embassies and missions, adding that they would provide quick, quality service at reasonable charges.”

“This important initiative has been taken to strengthen the Kingdom’s security and improve services to visa applicants. This would also prevent identity theft, and combat terrorism.

Prince Khaled did not give an exact date for introducing the new system for visa issuance.

The centers will be established with the support of one or more trading partners and will be supervised by the Ministry and Saudi missions abroad.

The centers will not only receive visa applications but also take fingerprints and full-face digital photos of the applicant.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry will hold talks with countries intending to introduce similar visa regulations, including the Philippines.

“It’s basically to make the process much safer for the individual traveler,” an expert told Arab News. “It’s going to protect them against identity theft and against document abuse,” he added.

“Identity theft is a major growing problem globally. It helps terrorism and organized crime.

“The new system helps keep visa applicants and their families safe from crime and terrorism. Visa applicants won’t be accidentally mistaken for another person with the same or similar name,” he pointed out. (PNA)

DCT/GJB

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