Ambassador Dhananjay Jha says thousands of Nepalis will not be able to replace their old passports before the deadline. Lee Hoagland / The National
Ambassador Dhananjay Jha says thousands of Nepalis will not be able to replace their old passports before the deadline. Lee Hoagland / The National

Nepalis face potential passport problems

ABU DHABI // Low turnout for the conversion of handwritten passports to machine-readable passports (MRPs) before the global deadline next year could lead to “big problems” for many Nepalese residents.

Thousands of Nepalis will not be able to replace their old passports before the deadline at the current rate of uptake said Dhananjay Jha, the Nepalese ambassador to the UAE.

By November 24 next year, all handwritten passports need to be converted to machine-readable passports per the deadline set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) for globally phasing out all non-MRPs.

From November 25, no country will accept handwritten passports and those who do not renew theirs before the deadline would not be able to travel, Mr Jha said.

The mission still has to replace 100,000 passports with MRPs. About 600 workers turn up at the mission every day but only 250 submit completed applications forms, he said.

At that rate, it would take 400 working days to replace all 100,000, and renewals can take more than three months to complete.

The passports are sent back to Nepal to be renewed once a month, before being returned to the UAE.

More than 300 come for other consular services, work visas and renewals each day.

“From the current situation we are afraid thousands could land in problems. Many workers are not aware of the seriousness of the issue,” Mr Jha said. “They think that their passports are valid until April next year, but they should approach us at least six month before the deadline.”

He said that should they lose their jobs they could become illegal residents in the Emirates with expired passports.

The Nepalese missions will stop accepting applications by the end of June next year because of the time it takes to process the passports.

“We send it to Nepal and all procedures consume that much time,” he said. “After the deadline, if their passports expire and they seek mission’s assistance, we can issue only one-way travel documents. In that case they could lose their jobs and can’t come back on the same visa.”

According to the mission, more than 300,000 Nepalese reside in the Emirates.

The mission has limited capacity and officials are working during weekends and extra hours to complete the process, he said.

“If more crowds gather, we can deploy volunteers to complete the process.”

The ambassador told people that they can come to the mission on the first Friday of each month because the embassy remains open to receive those workers who get only Fridays off.

He urged the community to spread the message among workers and asked companies to release passports so that workers can convert their old passports in time.

Abu Dhabi resident Dipak Thakuri from Nepal was not aware of the deadline and thought that he could submit applications any time next year.

Now he plans to submit his passport as soon as possible for an MRP so that he can travel.

He visited the mission several times to find out procedures and the documents required for the conversion.

Nepali Kedar Khadka’s passport expires in 2018 and he plans to renew it back home.

Mr Khadha said: “After two months I’m going home and will apply for the MRP there. It takes too much time here. Back home I can get it in a week,” he said.

The mission in Abu Dhabi charges Dh320 to complete the conversion.

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