Saudi Passport Department eyes facial-recognition system for immigration

Monday, May 7, 2018

JEDDAH: The General Directorate of Passports, also known as Jawazat, is making use of the latest technology to make it easier monitor and control the arrival and departure processes for expatriates, and to make arriving in Saudi Arabia a simpler, quicker and more enjoyable experience for all visitors.

Nearly all of the foreigners living in Saudi Arabia — an estimated at 12.2 million people, according to the General Authority for Statistics — have had their fingerprints taken, according to Maj. Gen. Sulaiman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Yahya the directorate’s director.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Makkah Region Economic Forum, he said that only about 4,000 legal expat residents in the Kingdom have not yet been fingerprinted, and called upon sponsors to make sure their laborers have been properly processed.

The Jawazat chief said his department is using the latest technology to make its job easier and make the experience more “enjoyable” for visitors.

“All participating bodies that take part in facilitating the entry to Saudi Arabia should make the visitors’ experience one of real happiness and delight,” Al-Yahya said.

He added that Jawazat is taking part in the economic forum because it is the gateway to the Saudi Arabia, and he believes that by providing a good service it can help attract investors.

“The much improved our services are, the easier investors entry procedures become,” Al-Yahya said. 

In addition, it is also easier to remain in the country legally for longer. Previously, the maximum length of stay in the Kingdom for visitors was three months, after which they had to leave. Now visits can be extended by a further three months.

“Visitors can automatically extend the period of their stay in the Kingdom without the need to go to a Passports Department,” he added.

Al-Yahya said that all Jawazat check points are of high standards and that entry is processed smoothly and swiftly. 

“We can’t attract investors while our services are poor or we have complicated procedures,” he said. “We always review our procedures to make sure that our services meet our guests’ satisfaction.” He also pointed out that they cannot increase the number of Hajj worshippers because many pilgrims remain in the country longer than they are legally entitled to. However, a fingerprint-recognition system, biometrics identification technology and taking prints of all 10 fingers can now help Jawazat officials identify pilgrims even if they are not carrying their official IDs.

“Moreover, we have begun to use eye-scan technology,” Al-Yahya said. “We are also working on making use of a facial-recognition system to be able to identify newcomers or illegal stayers.”

The new technology can also help when tragedy strikes, as it can help the authorities identify patients in hospital, or even people who have died, who have no passport or identification papers.

“We can easily recognize them,” Al-Yahya said. “We have, in fact, helped morticians identify dead bodies through their biometrics.”