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New Saudi immigration policy is killing business, Hajj operators lament

Hajj and Umrah tour operators in Nigeria have expressed concern over the newly introduced biometric data capturing by Saudi authority, saying the policy is exposing intending pilgrims to various challenges.

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Saudi Arabia had, in 2017, modified its immigration laws to make biometric verification compulsory for all intending visitors.

Only three capturing centres – Abuja, Kano and Lagos – were approved by the Saudi authority for the exercise in Nigeria.

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The Association for Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria (AHUON) lamented that the unpreparedness of the company appointed to implement the policy in the country is affecting their businesses.

“It is really bad. People coming here are spending hours, some even spend days before getting their biometrics captured,” Vice President of the association, Tijjani Uba Waru, told Daily Trust at the Abuja office of VFS Tasheel, the outsourced partner appointed by Saudi Arabia to facilitate visa applications for Nigerians.

According to him, the delay is costing hajj and umrah operators ‘millions’ of Naira as intending pilgrims are already losing interest.

“It is not easy especially for those coming from distant places just for finger prints. Some have to come by air, others by road. And we know the danger of kidnappings on the road,” Waru lamented.

This period is the lowest season. If the situation continues like this, it will jeopardize preparations ahead of the 2018 hajj exercise, he added.

“If they are not able to capture few people here on time during this off season, what will happen at the peak period when 95,000 intending pilgrims from Nigeria will be preparing for the hajj exercise?”

At the Saudi Arabia visa application centre in Abuja, applicants who spoke to Daily Trust complained of the hours they had to spend before getting captured.

However, an applicant from Maiduguri, who pleaded not to be named, said she has spent weeks waiting to be captured.

Another applicant said the newly introduced biometric is hectic to her as a frequent traveler to Saudi Arabia.

Efforts to speak to the management of VFS Tasheel proved abortive. When approached, a senior official declined comment, saying he needed to get “clearance from above.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Government had assured Nigerian pilgrims of his commitment to address the problem along with its attendant consequences on Hajj and Umrah operations in the country.

Foreign Affairs Ministry said it is engaging the Saudi authority to ensure the suspension of the newly introduced bio-metrics for intending pilgrims of Hajj and Umrah from Nigeria.

The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Hajiya Khadijat Bukar Abba Ibrahim disclosed this when she received the House of Representatives Committee on Nigeria-Saudi Arabia Parliamentary Friendship and Hajj Affairs in her office in Abuja.

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