Dubai: Indian community members are calling for online appointment system for passport services to address the huge rush and violations of social distancing norms being reported in various passport service centres post the Stay Home period in the UAE.
Passport and visa application processing services for the Indian missions have been outsourced to BLS International.
The service centres of the company have been witnessing a huge rush of applicants especially in the morning hours as officials struggle to clear backlog caused by lockdown and operate with limited capacity while some centres in the premises of Indian associations still remain closed.
Gulf News visited a couple of these centres this week and witnessed long queues of applicants many of whom had to be turned away as hundreds are queueing up though only 150 tokens are issued per day.
There was a chaos of people rushing to get tokens at the BLS Centre in Deira on Wednesday where police had to disperse the crowd.
Since they have had to return for days consecutively, some applicants have been losing their patience and not following norms of social distancing while trying to get into the centres.
Many of the applicants for passport renewal are people seeking repatriation due to various reasons during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those seeking repatriation cannot fly without a valid passport or a travel document called Emergency Certificate or out-pass.
Mohammed Basheer, an employee of a typing centre who has been unpaid for four months, said he had to visit the BLS Centre in Al Khaleej Centre three days to submit his application for passport renewal.
“I have to renew it so that I can renew my visa before I get a call from the consulate for repatriation,” he told Gulf News.
“I don’t know when I will be able to return from India. Hence, I cannot go without renewing my visa that is expiring in August. But for that I needed to renew my passport that is expiring on June 14.”
As his first two attempts of queueing up for hours in the scorching heat went in vain, Basheer decided to reach the centre at 4am the third time.
“I was the first to reach and several others came in after that. Still I got the token number 45 only.”
He said he was okay with female applicants in a separate queue including mothers with their newborns and elderly women being given the first tokens.
“But, all of a sudden some 15-20 people came from nowhere and the security gave them tokens saying they had come and booked the slot a month ago. I had to believe it as they had given me a token for July 15 when I went there second time.”
Regi K.C, who is seeking repatriation of his family after both and his wife lost jobs, said he had visited the Deira BLS Centre twice.
“When I reached at 8.30am, there was a long queue and I was told come at 6am. When I reached by 6.15am, there were already dozens of people inside and outside the centre.”
When they didn’t get the tokens later, he said, some people became impatient and started shouting at the security.
“I had to leave because I was worried about people not following social distancing. I just hope that I can catch a repatriation flight before the expiry of my passport on June 23. I don’t see any chance of me getting lucky enough to get it renewed before that.”
Renewal for new visa
Mohd Asif Shihabudeen, who is on a visit visa and seeking to renew his passport for stamping a new employment visa after getting an offer letter as a receptionist was among the applicants in BLS Centre in Sharjah on Tuesday.
“I reached by 6.15am as my father had warned me of the rush and said they are only issuing 150 tokens. People were not observing social distancing when they queued up in circles.”
“By 8 am when we were told that only 100 tokens would be issued some people started shouting and wanted to see the manager. I felt nobody was bothered about coronavirus and I kept myself away.”
Applicants who spoke to Gulf News said an online registration system would help solve the issue so that only those who have booked their slot can visit the centres as per their slot.
Though applicants have to submit their applications online before visiting the BLS Centres or seek the service of the staff their do it, there is no online system for booking appointment slot at the centres.
An online booking system is available at the premium lounge of BLS Centre which charges Dh225 more.
“Because of the lockdown, there was a lot of pendency for renewal of passports and more people than normally expected are visiting BLS for passport services,” he explained.
He urged the community to adhere to social distancing rules.
“We have seen that a lot of rush happens in the morning hours and would appeal to people not to rush and maintain social distancing.”
Vipul added that the mission is working with BLS to find a solution.
“We are discussing the issue with BLS as to how to manage this properly so that people are not inconvenienced and all norms of social distancing during COVID-19 are observed.”
The consulate had earlier clarified that an Indian passport can be renewed up to three years after its expiry under normal procedure.
Vipul said there is no need to rush for passport renewal if applicants are only concerned about any penalties.
“It is only after three years of expiry of passport that there is a condition that it can be renewed only with prior police clearance from Indian authorities.”