Dubai: Applicants for visas to Saudi Arabia, including Haj and Umrah pilgrims, who apply from the UAE must now also have their fingerprints and picture taken in addition to regular requirements.

The new rules went into effect on Sunday.

The new biometric enrolment part of the visa application costs Dh17 and is said to speed up entry formalities to the kingdom.

However, those exempt from the biometrics rule include applicants aged below 12 or above 70, diplomatic visa applicants, and those who cannot complete the process for a medical reason.

The UAE is the sixth country where the biometric rule has been introduced and more countries will join the list in a phased roll-out.

Both the fingerprint and picture capture will take a total of three to five minutes.

Applicants must visit one of three VFS Tasheel visa service centres in the UAE — in Abu Dhabi, Dubai or Sharjah — which handle Saudi visa applications.

VFS Tasheel is authorised by the Saudi foreign affairs ministry to manage the Saudi visa application process in more than 30 countries.

Company officials said the biometrics rule has been made mandatory by the Saudi ministry, adding the company does not store or use the biometrics data in any way.

Their comments came during a Dubai press conference announcing the development.

Asif Delvi, assistant vice-president of VFS Tasheel, said the biometrics will “definitely make a difference in the time” taken by applications to go through.

However, it will not affect the decision process itself, which is solely taken by the Saudi embassies or consulates, he added.

Delvi said implementing the biometrics within the application process itself means “there will only be a verification process at the [Saudi] airport or border”.

He added that the new rule “makes sure the same person who applied for the visa is the one who is actually travelling to Saudi Arabia. Plus it’s for some background checks the [Saudi foreign ministry] does.”

Also, pilgrims seeking Haj or Umrah visas must visit a visa service centre to have their fingerprints and picture taken. However, their other usual formalities will continue to be handled as routine by an authorised Haj or Umrah agent.

Once the agent completes the pilgrim’s Enjaz process, the agent will need to schedule an appointment with the closest visa centre on the applicant’s behalf.

All visa applicants must book an appointment for the biometrics on the VFS Tasheel website,