Cii News | 16 Muharram 1436/10 November 2014

The new procedure of Mu’tamireen going through a pre-visa biometrics test will only begin next year.

“I can tell you without a shadow a doubt and with 100% confirmation from the embassy that there will be no necessity for anybody to travel for biometrics and no additional expenses incurred. The process will be exactly the same as it’s been all the time where the operator will do the application for the visa and the operator will then courier the passports to the embassy directly so that the embassy can follow the process for Umrah visas to be issued.”

SAHUC president, Shaheen Essop spoke to Cii Radio about the recent inclusion in Umrah preparation that has gotten December Mu’tamireen a bit distressed.  VFS, a Dubai based service company, has been given the rights by the foreign ministry in Saudi Arabia to process business visas and other types of visas excluding Hajj and Umrah until now. VFS also indicated that people will need to do biometrics which is fingerprinting and retina scanning prior to their visas being applied for.

“When VFS opened up their offices here in February/March and I was invited to their opening I stated to them that they have a major problem on their hands. The first problem is that they don’t have a facility in the major centres of South Africa… They promised that they were going to get offices opened up in Durban and they would have mobile offices that would go to the major outlying areas and unfortunately that has not happened. Coming to this Umrah we are expecting a bumper Umrah from South Africa as a result of the December holidays and they were going to start implementing this whole thing.”

But implementation will not proceed until after a review of the biometric process takes place in January 2015. The biometrics process will be an on going discussion with the embassy, the foreign affairs in Saudi Arabia and the VFS Company. But Essop said this new inclusion opened up a debate for a “much bigger process”.

“The operators that operate in this field need to actually come to the table to sit down with SAHUC and bring SAHUC into the involvement of the administration of Umrah. When we talk about administration of the Umrah we’re not talking about administering the Mu’tamireen. I’ve got no interest in the Mu’tamireen except the fact that they mustn’t be ripped off and they mustn’t be fed the incorrect information.”

There are 16 Umrah operators registered with the ministry of Hajj and Umrah Division, but there are also many other operators of a different nature looking to make big money on empty promises.

“Joe Soap and his dog are on the street corner advertising Umrah and they are not registered operators, they go via a third party to annex a visa. This in itself poses a tremendous problem because the more links you have in the equation the more things that can go wrong. The question the Mu’tamireen then ask themselves who do they then go to as the last resort from a perspective of getting their query resolved,” said Essop.

A word of advice to those intending to perform Umrah was to go through registered operators. A list of these can be found on SAHUCS website.