MANILA, Philippines - To thwart terrorism, identity theft, and perhaps even blacklisting runaway workers, Saudi Arabia (KSA) will begin taking photographs and fingerprints of visa applicants to the oil-rich kingdom.
Foreign Undersecretary Prince Khaled bin Saud said authorized biometrics would receive visa applications on behalf of Saudi embassies and missions.
"This important initiative has been taken to strengthen the Kingdom's security and improve services to visa applicants," he said in an article on government-run Saudi Press Agency.
The new immigration policy does not include relatives of iqama holders unless they are workers themselves. An iqama is an official identity card saying that the holder is a resident of Saudi Arabia. [See: Use KSA's iqama online inquiry service, OFWs urged]
Prince Khaled has not announced the date for the start of the new immigration process, but Victor Fernandez Jr., president of the Philippine Association of Service Exporters, Inc. (PASEI) said they have been given hints that it would begin next month.
What is certain is that service centers, which will be under the supervision of the Ministry and Saudi missions abroad, will provide "quick, quality service at reasonable charges."
The Department of Foreign Affairs said Saudi Arabia has already begun fingerprinting and taking digital full-face photos of foreigners coming to the Kingdom on visit, Umrah and work visas.
Foreign passengers are in long queues at airports and other entry points to have their fingerprints and full-face photos taken.
The new biometric system is expected to get rid of the long queues and delays at airports during fingerprinting procedure.
But Welfare Officer Romualdo Exmundo of the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah earlier raised concern that the new policy makes runaway workers more vulnerable to deportation and blacklisting.
A GMANews.TV source in Saudi Arabia explained that under the new policy, employers could no longer ask immigration officials to take a foreign employee’s name out of the blacklist. The SR2,000 fine for blacklist removal is also not applicable. [See: Blacklist abusive employers, not runaway Pinoys in KSA – group]
Maj. Gen. Salim Al-Belaihed, director-general of the Passport Department, urged all foreign workers to get their biometric data registered soonest so they can avoid snags in getting their re-entry visas stamped on time.
"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," the DFA article quoted one security source as saying.
One should also make sure that there are no cuts or bruises on his/her face.
At present, 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 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the second is from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Also, there are mobile fingerprinting centers that the Passport Department sends to hospitals and large companies that have over 600 foreign workers. - with Joseph Holandes Ubalde, GMANews.TV