BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities have stopped accepting passport renewal applications, saying they are unable to meet demand as the worsening economic crisis pushes people to leave the country.

Lebanon’s General Security said it would suspend passport renewals starting this week and its stock of passports would only cover current applicants.

The announcement raised fears that the authorities are determined to prevent people from leaving Lebanon, thus limiting their freedom of movement.

Major General Abbas Ibrahim, Director General of General Security, said: “The passport application platform has scheduled appointments until April 2023, and passports will be issued to anyone who has already applied. until this date.

Lebanese have been rushing to obtain biometric passports since 2020, with renewal requests 10 times higher than in previous years.

Locals anticipated an increase in passport fees, so they rushed to get new documents, while expats took advantage of their holidays in Lebanon to renew their passports for around $35, avoiding the $200 or $300 payment. required in Lebanese embassies abroad.

A study by the General Directorate of General Security found that 69% of people obtained passports without using them and around 20,000 citizens renewed their passports in 2021, despite having had another two years before the expiration of their documents.

The study also revealed that more than 15,000 passports were processed but never claimed by their owners.

General Security said: “In 2020, our main and regional centers had 10 times more passport applications than in previous years, which affected our passport inventory.”

Brig. General Mounir Akiki of General Security told Arab News that the growing number of requests and dwindling stock have forced authorities to act.

New conditions were issued in February for the renewal of passports that some believed were impossible to meet.

Requirements included valid residency abroad, a valid visa affixed to the passport to be renewed, an appointment at the embassy within one month of the date of application submission, or proof of continuing education at abroad, or medical reports if the purpose of the passport renewal is to continue treatment abroad, or to present a signed work contract and the necessary documents if the purpose is to work abroad.

In addition, biometric passport fees have been increased from 300,000 Lebanese Pounds ($200) to 600,000 Lebanese Pounds (valid for five years) and from 500,000 Lebanese Pounds to 1.2 million Lebanese Pounds (valid for 10 years).

Akiki said passport issues were also behind General Security’s decision.

“In 2021, we realized the repercussions of the economic crisis in Lebanon and signed a contract with the French company that prints Lebanese passports worth 12 million dollars in exchange for printing 1 million passports, but the company requested the transfer of a certain amount as a documentary credit. to start printing, and according to the Code of Currency and Credit in Lebanon, contracts must be signed in Lebanese pounds and not in dollars.

He added: “When we signed the contract with the French company, the dollar exchange rate was based on the official rate, which was 1,500 Lebanese pounds for one dollar, and there was no exchange platform. affiliated with the Central Bank which sets rates in accordance with financial market movements.

This affected the continuity of work. Akiki claimed that Ibrahim had urged several politicians to end the crisis, but without success.

According to Akiki, no passports will be available after April 2023 if the issue is not resolved by then.

Discussing the possibility of renewing old passports as an alternative, Akiki said, “We cannot do that. The old passport has been canceled and can no longer be used. This decision is made by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Akiki said the contract with the French company was worth around 22 billion Lebanese pounds, based on the official exchange rate.

But he said the value increased to about 300 billion Lebanese pounds according to the rate of the central bank’s Sayrafa platform (about 22,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar).

The Lebanese Crisis Observatory at the American University of Beirut has predicted a wave of emigration from Lebanon in the coming years.

A key indicator is that 77% of young people plan to emigrate, while specialists and professionals also leave in search of better working conditions and income.

Thousands of Lebanese, including teachers, doctors, nurses and university graduates, left the country two years ago, and the number of departures increased after the Beirut port explosion.

The World Bank estimates that Lebanon will need at least 12 years to return to 2017 gross domestic product levels.

This will encourage hundreds of thousands of people to leave the country to invest, work, study and retire abroad, the bank said.