Monday, November 23, 2009

Saudi requires OFWs to submit biometric data

Filipinos seeking to visit or work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) would need to provide biometric data as the Saudi Arabian government will be introducing a biometric system in the issuance of visa starting 2010.

The move is part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to strengthen its security, prevent identity theft, and combat terrorism.

KSA’s biometric service centers would be established in major cities around the world starting 2010. There are about 1.3-million Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Saudi Arabia.

“This important initiative has been taken to strengthen the Kingdom’s security and improve services to visa applicants,” KSA Ministry of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Prince Khaled bin Saud said, adding that they would provide quick, quality service at reasonable charges.

“These service centers will be established with the support of one or more trading partners and they will be under the supervision of the Ministry and Saudi missions abroad,” he said. “The centers will not only receive visa applications but also take fingerprints and full-face digital photos of the applicant,” he added.

Maj. Gen. Salim Al-Belaihed, Director-General of the Passport Department, urged all foreign workers to get their biometric data registered as soon as possible so that they can avoid hassles in getting their re-entry visas stamped on time.

However, the Saudi Arabian government said the visa applicants should make sure they do not have any decoration such as henna tattoo, or any cuts or other markings on their fingertips before having their biometric data taken. They should also ensure they have no bruises or cuts in the face. The fingerprinting process only takes about five minutes.

The new biometric system is expected to get rid of the long queues and delays at airports for fingerprinting.

There are three fingerprinting centers in Jeddah. These centers are 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 fingerprinting centers work in two shifts, the first is from 7 am to 3 pm and the second is from 4 pm to 10 pm. There are also mobile fingerprinting centers which the Passport Department sends to hospitals and large companies that have over 600 foreign workers.

It will be recalled that the United Kingdom (UK) warned of some disruptions in issuing passports in the Philippines as it aims to re-organize its passport operations worldwide.

Under the new system, Britons would have to renew their passports online.

The UK is 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.

Madel R. Sabater

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