Passports overhaul angers Lebanese

Handwritten passports are being replaced by electronic versions but many claim they were not informed of the changes and question the logic of adopting electronic passports when many other countries issue biometric passports.

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DUBAI // Lebanese expatriates with handwritten passports are upset at having to renew them for electronic versions they say they knew nothing about.

However, Lebanon’s consul in Abu Dhabi, Hadi Hashem, said that the decision to change the passports was made public a year ago following a recommendation by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

“We were not renewing passports in 2015 and, at the end of the year, we were only issuing new passports,” he said. “We are trying to expedite the process by sending the passports to Beirut once a week every Thursday, instead of every two weeks.”

For expatriates in the UAE, it can take up to five weeks to get the new passport, while issuing one in Lebanon takes up to 48 hours.

Mr Hashem said that the embassy or consulate would not confiscate people’s current passports, which may carry a UAE residency visa.

“The old passport will remain with the individual until the new one is issued,” he said. “Once it is issued, he or she will be handed the new one along with the cancelled passport.”

However, that is not the case if a citizen is going to Lebanon after January 20.

Holders of handwritten passport will find that their credentials are confiscated at Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport.

“The person will be requested to head to general security and apply for a new passport,” said Mr Hashem. “He will then receive his cancelled and new one at the same time.”

A passport valid for one year costs US$40 (Dh146), and for five years it costs $200 (Dh730).

However, it was not clear whether a Lebanese passport holder would be able to travel to other countries.

According to Mr Hashem, each country has its own regulations on whether to accept the passports or not.

However, he added that by March it should be standard that every Lebanese citizen had a new, electronic passport.

“We are working hard and to the maximum to make sure that the passports are issued,” he said.

Lebanese expats said they had to go to a great deal of trouble to get a new passport.

“It’s such an inconvenience because no one told us anything about it,” said Thouraya Al Zougbi, 37. “I recently found out from Facebook.

“You never know when an emergency arises and you have to travel.”

Ms Al Zougbi also said that it was odd that the Lebanese government was issuing electronic passports when other countries were adopting biometric passports. “There was talk of needing a biometric by 2017, which is confusing,” she said. “Should we now get a passport for one year or five years? Are they going to soon tell us that we have to pay for yet another passport that is biometric?”

For Lynn Al Khatib, 34, the matter remained confusing as she was unsure whether she could travel with her current passport. “It’s just an inconvenience because either way I need to get another passport issued now,” she said. “I wish they had given us a longer notice period, and now I simply don’t know if I can travel to other countries.”

dmoukhallati@thenational.ae