Dubai- "Emiratis travelling abroad used to ensure that their passports were renewed before applying for a visa at foreign embassies in the UAE. Now, as Emiratis can travel to 176 countries without a pre-entry visa, they don’t need to bother about travel documents in advance," Colonel Omar Ali Al Shamsi, Assistant General Manager for Entry Permits at the General Directorate of Residency and Foreign Affairs, GDRFA, in Dubai, said in an exclusive interview.
Therefore, instead of visiting a passport office only for that purpose, Emiratis reach the airport early for their travel and get their passport renewed within a few minutes. This has contributed to the huge increase in number of passport renewal at the centre at the terminal three, he said.
It is the only such facility in an airport in the UAE that works twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, including public holidays, to provide passport services for Emiratis and visa-related services for all foreigners, including expatriates living in the UAE, said Al Shamsi. Apart from travellers, the public can also easily access the centre. Since opened five years ago, the number of Emirati passport renewals at the centre increased by 768 percent, from 1715 in 2014 to 13,168 in 2018, the official said. The passport renewals at the centre increased gradually every year, with 5568 in 2015, 9800 in 2016 and 14,400 in 2017. About 6550 passport renewals were done during the first half of 2019, Al Shamsi revealed.
Soon after the centre was opened in 2014, the UAE passport’s global ranking was significantly boosted in 2015 thanks to the Schengen visa waiver for Emiratis. The UAE is the first Arab country whose citizens enjoy a visa waiver to the 26 Schengen countries, which make up most of Europe. According to Arton Capital's Passport Index [Global Passport Power Rank 2019], the UAE passport holds the first position globally, as its holder can travel to 176 countries around the world, with 117 destinations offering visa-free travel and 59 offering e-visa or visa on arrival at the airport. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation had launched the UAE Passport Force initiative to place the Emirati passport on the list of the five most powerful passports in the world by 2021; however, the country achieved this goal in 2018, three years before the deadline. Al Shamsi said increased awareness about the need to have at least six months’ passport validity before travelling abroad have been encouraging Emiratis to renew the passports in time. Some people have been visiting the centre at the airport for this purpose alone, as it is open to the public as well. Emiratis can travel to the GCC countries with three months’ passport validity.
Some people used to have a confusion that this would apply to other destinations as well. "But not anymore. Now we don’t see any Emiratis who don’t know such travel rules. Our awareness campaigns have made positive results," the official said. Emiratis from all seven emirates can renew their passports at the centre, by paying an additional fee of AED 140, apart from the regular Dh55 fee [for five years’ renewal].
The centre offers some services related to visas. Visitors and foreign residents in the country mainly approach the centre for enquiries and services related to visa, he said. "We never say no to anyone. Even if we cannot offer any particular service, we try to give the information about it and direct the people to the right place," Al Shamsi said. "Our aim is to leave everyone happy and we have always achieved it," he concluded.
© Copyright Emirates News Agency (WAM) 2019.