Valid passports so dear

Renewing passports have suddenly become a "wild goose chase" for Bangladeshi migrants in Oman.

Frustration and anxiety is growing among Bangladeshi expatriates as thousands of workers are not getting their passports renewed on time.

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Amid such a situation, pressure is growing on the Bangladesh embassy in Oman and the money exchange firms tasked with the service.

Slow supply of passports from Dhaka are blamed for the crisis. However, the Bangladesh embassy and the Department of Immigration and Passports (DIP) hoped the crisis will be over within a month.

According to expatriates, the passport crisis in Oman has been prevailing for the last six to seven months, causing sufferings to them. Failing to renew their passports, they cannot return home, get their emergency works done, and renew their visa, Akama or Resident Permit Card, ATM Card and, driving licence.

Expatriates said amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the necessity for a resident card has increased manifold for medical and education purposes, to avoid legal troubles and also for various other services.

But they are not able to do anything due to the delay in passport renewal.

Md Parsul Alam, a Bangladeshi sales worker in Salala, said a money exchange firm in the last three months told him time and again that his passport was under printing process.

But neither the firm nor the embassy can answer when it will be printed, Parsul said over the phone.

"Without having my passport, I cannot travel to Bangladesh. I even cannot withdraw my salary abroad. My salary is deposited into a bank account which I can only withdraw using my ATM card. The passport is required to renew my expired ATM card," he told this correspondent recently.

He completed the application for renewing the passport through the money exchange firm, approved by the Bangladesh embassy, six months ago.

Another Bangladeshi worker in Sohar, Mehedi Hasan, cannot renew his visa-Akama (work permit) as he has not yet got back his passport.

"I have been here for two months without a visa, meaning I am an undocumented migrant. It is becoming difficult for me to avail the usual benefits as an expatriate," he lamented.

A monthly penalty will be charged if the Akama is not renewed although there are concessions due to the pandemic. However, the big problem is Omani companies are developing a negative attitude towards Bangladeshi workers due to this delay, said Mohammad Yasin Chowdhury, president of Chattogram Samity in Oman.

If the visa is not renewed in time, the companies have to give an explanation to the labour department and in some cases they get blacklisted, he said.

Yasin Chowdhury, who got the official status of NRB-CIP by sending the highest amount of remittances to the country, said: "The expatriates are in despair over an uncertain future due to the pandemic and the passport crisis aggravated their sufferings."

It is hard to explain the difficulties they have to face every day, he said.

According to the latest data from the Oman government, Bangladeshis are the largest expatriate community in the country with about 5.47 lakh workers. The total number of Bangladeshis in Oman is over 7 lakh as there are also family members and workers without Akama.

The passport section under a counselor at the Bangladesh embassy in the capital Muscat provides services to expatriates. They enroll the renewal or new passport applications and send those to the DIP in Dhaka.

The passports are distributed among the applicants as soon as those are sent to Muscat. However, there is no previous record of such a long delay.

Expatriates said a passport could be obtained within 45 days usually, but during the pandemic it started taking three months.

[The writer is a freelance journalist.]

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