There was no crowd outside General Security headquarters near the Justice Palace in Beirut on Tuesday.
“No need to show up if you did not receive a message,” said one General Security agent, confirming that appointments made via the online platform will soon move forward.
His statement offers hope that the recent problems faced by Lebanese citizens in obtaining passports will soon be resolved.
Junaid, one applicant who was present at General Security (GS) headquarters on Tuesday morning, said he could not get an appointment until March 2023 when he applied via the platform eight months ago.
“We had to apply to the GS central management to benefit from exceptional measures, with a visa and professional document in support,” he told L’Orient-Le Jour, adding that he had hoped to receive his new passport within a week. For the expedited procedure, he will have to pay LL4 million (nearly $100 at the current market rate), for an ordinary passport, i.e. non-biometric.
In the line next to him, Sami is waiting to travel to participate in a football tournament.
“I made an appointment a year ago via the platform, but the call-up date was too far away,” he told L'Orient-Le Jour. “ So my club had to make an emergency request. And here I am today ... Let's hope that a passport will be issued to me before the start of the competition!”
De-escalating a crisis situation
After a disruption that lasted several months, General Security management announced Monday that it would again begin to receive applications for biometric passports, starting Jan. 17, in all its regional centers and Public Relations Department.
In order to de-escalate a crisis situation that began in the summer of 2020 — and remedy the delays in processing cases — the agency intends to accelerate the issuance of passports, according to a statement. It plans to expedite appointments made via its online platform within the limits of production capacity and will notify citizens of scheduling changes via SMS.
The online platform was created to meet the high demand for passports following the economic crisis, which resulted in the widespread desire to leave the country.
General Security also indicated a cancelation of all previous requirements for obtaining a passport, except one: already owning a passport that will not expire in less than 18 months.
Faced with the inability to order enough blank passports from abroad, the government had previously imposed certain requirements on applicants, such as presenting a solid travel plan, including a valid plane ticket, hotel reservation or proof of enrollment in an educational institution.
Non-biometric still valid
“This step will allow General Security to reassess its ability to meet the high demand caused by moving forward the appointments,” Mounir Akiki, head of the agency's media office, told L'Orient-Le Jour. He stressed that non-biometric passports issued according to “model 2003” are internationally recognized and have the same validity as the biometric passports.
“They are machine-readable and in accordance with the standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization,” said Akiki, adding that no biometric passports will be issued to holders of valid conventional passports.
Higher costs for expats
Given the spike in Lebanonese passport applications starting in 2019, General Security began to issue non-biometric passports using “model 2003.” Appointments faced long delays, with many applicants waiting a year or more to get their passports renewed.
But in early January, General Security head Abbas Ibrahim announced that, in February, Lebanon would resume passport production at pre-crisis levels.
Even Lebanese expatriates are waiting impatiently for the end of the passport crisis.
“Let's hope that it will be resolved quickly because otherwise, I won't be able to leave France,” said Carla, whose passport expires in April. “For the moment, I can't make an appointment via the platform before January 2025.”
If her passport expires before its renewal date, Carla will have to renew it from Paris, which will pose another problem: heightened fees. According to the newly-enforced tariffs, her renewal at the Lebanese consulate will cost her €250 for a passport that is good for five years, and €500 for one that is good for ten years.
A Lebanese diplomat explained to L'Orient-Le Jour on condition of anonymity that the rates requested from expatriates when applying for a passport — which are much higher than the Lebanese rates — contribute to covering the salaries of civil servants abroad.
Ranked 100th in the world
The strength of Lebanon's passport was ranked 100th out of 199 global passports, according to the 2023 Henley Passport Index. Its ranking is tied with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka and Sudan, just behind Iran (99th).
To determine the rank of each passport, the Henley Passport Index is based on data from the International Air Transport Association and on the number of destinations that do not require a visa. Lebanon's GDP was also taken into account.
For comparison, the Lebanese passport was ranked 79th in 2006, before falling continuously from 2007 to 2012, sitting in 88th place. In 2021, it was in 107th place. In 2022, Lebanon ranked 103rd.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Joelle El Khoury.