Visa applicants for Umrah will soon have to record their biometrics before traveling to the Kingdom.
Under the new rule, which comes as part of efforts to streamline the visa process and reduce waiting time at entry points, biometrics will be recorded at select agencies through registration centers in foreign countries.
The new system has been a subject of contention among Umrah tour operators in Pakistan, Egypt and Jordan, but has yet to be introduced in India, Bangladesh and other countries with a large number of Umrah applicants.
Tour operators have opposed the biometric system, saying it would delay Umrah visas and increase costs for applicants who live in remote areas since they would have to travel to larger cities before getting their permits.
The problem is particularly pressing in Pakistan, which sends nearly 700,00 Umrah pilgrims to the Kingdom every year.
Scores of local tour operators working under the umbrella of the Travel Agents Association of Pakistan have opposed the new system.
The Jordan Society of Tourism and Travel Agents, meanwhile, has suspended Umrah visas for the current season in protest against the new measure.
Its President Shaher Hamdan said that the society would continue with this suspension until biometric data collection procedures are facilitated and amended for pilgrims.
Tour operators in Egypt have firmly opposed the measure, saying it would be a huge burden on pilgrims living in remote areas.
“We don’t know the exact details yet, but we know that processing costs will double and that pilgrims will have to approach a specific agency in Cairo and Alexandria to submit visa application forms,” Hisham H. Ali, an Egyptian expat from Jeddah, told Arab News.
Egyptian tour operators and officials from the country’s tourism ministry held a meeting with Saudi diplomats on Wednesday and requested them to postpone biometric registration until adequate arrangements were made, according to one report.
Operators in India and Bangladesh have not received word of the measures thus far, but will only process visas for Umrah pilgrims from December.
“We have not received any information about biometric requirements,” Adeeb Mohammed, managing director of Links travel, an agency that processes thousands of Umrah applications in Hyderabad every year, told Arab News.
Sources at travel agencies in Dhaka also echoed similar views.
Arab News tried to get comments from Hatim Kadi, undersecretary at the Haj Ministry, to no avail.
Article by: arabnews.com