Like many developing nations, Sudan relies heavily on expat remittances to help Sudanese families make ends meet. In the United Arab Emirates alone there are estimated to be over 300,000 Sudanese expats, mostly working in the burgeoning construction industry. Each year these expats send millions of dollars back to relatives in the Sudan.
Unfortunately however, a new policy is causing concern among Sudanese expat workers. It has been agreed that as from November 2015, the standard Sudanese passport will no longer be valid. Instead, every Sudanese citizen will need to apply for one of the new electronic passports if they are to travel abroad. This includes the 300,000 expats currently living in the UAE.
For a country to significantly upgrade its passport system you might imagine great preparation had been done. You might expect that systems had been put in place to make the transition as simple and as hassle-free as possible.
However it would seem that this is far from the reality of the situation. According to Sudanese experts in the UAE there is currently only one passport office in the whole of the country. This means that over the next five months, every single Sudanese expat in the UAE will need to make the journey to the Sudanese consulate in Dubai. It won’t be possible to get the new electronic passports from anywhere else in the UAE.
Worse, the systems put in place to facilitate the transition seem, at least to Western eyes, less than satisfactory. For example vocal expats who have tried to obtain a new passport tell stories of disorganization at the consulate. It has been alleged that there are no neat queues or waiting systems; instead passport-seekers are simply expected to fight their way to the front of the crowds.
Also, when it comes to having your photograph and fingerprints taken, applicants are called up at the behest of the officials on duty. As a result, just because you arrive at the office early in the morning does not necessarily mean you will be prioritized over other applicants.
Lastly, it has been claimed that the whole application process – from beginning to end – can take up to three months at present.
Firstly, one applies for the passport and is then sent an invitation to attend an appointment that is generally between 20 and 45 days in the future thanks to the number of applicants currently being seen. Upon attending your appointment – and assuming that you manage to get seen on the day you attend – it can take a similar period of time to actually receive your passport.
Sudanese expats are therefore advised to request their passport appointment as soon as possible so as to avoid disappointment and the growing queues as the deadline nears. Those arriving close to November may find themselves trapped, waiting for their new passport to arrive while their old one is no longer valid.