BEIRUT — Renewing or acquiring a Lebanese passport in Lebanon and abroad has become a challenge. With the Lebanese state facing one of its worst economic crisis, although a right, obtaining a passport has become a luxury.
Many Lebanese citizens residing abroad complain about the high fees of renewing passports, which is now 24 million Lebanese pounds ($600) for a passport valid for 10 years. This is an exorbitant price for many, especially students and new expatriates.
The price for the renewal of a passport valid for five years, issued at a Lebanese embassy abroad, is 12 million Lebanese pounds ($300). The Lebanese diplomatic body has been suffering repercussions of the economic crisis, with ministers calling for expats to pay the salaries of diplomats and embassy staff.
However, in Lebanon, the renewal of a five-year passport costs 1 million pounds ($25), while the renewal of a 10-year passport costs 2 million pounds ($50), according to the Lebanese General Security statement published Nov. 16.
Hassan Alahmar, a fourth-year dental student who studies in Russia, told Al-Monitor, “Renewing my passport for five years cost me $300, which is very expensive for my parents. They are forced to go into debt so I can complete my education here following the Lebanese lira collapse.”
He said, “We appealed to the officials Lebanon but no one listened to us.”
Alahmar added, “I live in southern Russia. I had to go to Moscow by bus — a journey that took me 25 hours — to get fingerprinted and submit my signature. This was an additional problem.”
“Many foreign students face the same dilemma as Alahmar,” Rabih Kanj, head of the Lebanese Association for Parents of Students in Foreign Universities, told Al-Monitor. “The issue is not only the passport fees but also the cost of transactions at embassies such as translation and embassy staff certification [of the documents]."
He said, “After the crisis hit Lebanon at the end of 2019, the Lebanese lira lost its value to the US dollar. Families faced problems in paying for passport fees, especially those whose salaries were paid in Lebanese currency. The worst was that the banks set many restrictions on accounts and in-bank withdrawals.”
Kanj added, “For almost a year and a half, we have been communicating with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to reduce these fees, especially in Europe that has the largest percentage of Lebanese students. They made us many promises, but we have witnessed nothing tangible on the ground until now.”
According to a report by Information International, a Beirut-based research and consultancy firm, published Nov. 11, the number of immigrants and departures is increasing as a result of the economic crisis and the decline in the ability to work in the majority of them as well as the increase in the unemployment rate, which is estimated at 38%.
The number of immigrants and departures reached 42,199 people from the beginning of this year until mid-October, compared to 65,172 people for the same period in 2021. In the period between 1992 and mid-October 2022, the number reached 815,410 people, representing an annual average of 27,180.
Also, 257,852 people left Lebanon between 2017 and 2022, with the highest annual number of 79,134 reached in 2021.
Kanj said, “In Lebanon, there are no official and unified statistics on the rate of student emigration. However, I think the figure is greater than 15,000 in Europe, which has the highest percentage of Lebanese students.”
Mohamad Merei, 28, has worked in the electronics field in Nigeria for nine years. He told Al-Monitor, “At the beginning of November, I applied to renew my passport for five years, and I paid $300. I used the fast DHL track at a cost of $122, because the regular application procedure would take three to four months. I received the new passport within a month with DHL.”
Central Bank Gov. Riad Salameh announced Nov. 21 that the Banque du Liban will begin operating at a rate of 15,000 Lebanese pounds per dollar beginning in February 2023.
During the interview on Al-Hurra TV, he said that Lebanon had begun to gradually enter into a unified exchange rate that starts with the customs dollar.
The new customs dollar price has officially reached 15,000 pounds to the dollar instead of 1,507 pounds on Dec. 1.
The new prices frightened many Lebanese because of their possible impact on the prices of imported and domestic goods and products, and even services, including passports, in light of their declining purchasing power.
The Lebanese are still waiting for the government to announce the fields that are affected by the latest rate change.
Expats also face other kinds of problems, such as the late arrival of passports and the delay in responses by the Lebanese Embassy in their host country.
Hachem Hachem, who works in plastics manufacturing in Cameroon, told Al-Monitor, “Surely the fees were high, but even if I could go to Lebanon passports in Lebanon would take a long time to be finalized, and some people cannot afford the high costs of traveling.”
He said, “I lost my passport for a month. I applied to renew my passport at the embassy in Gabon on Sept. 26. I then received a message from DHL that it had arrived at the consulate in Cameroon. The consulate told me it was lost; it was sent to the wrong place and they will return it to me.”
Outside Lebanon, even those able to book appointments at the embassy have often had to wait months.
Ahmad Shahine, a Lebanese man in his mid-20s who works at a restaurant, told Al-Monitor, “I lost two job opportunities because of a delay in issuing my passport. My current salary barely covers gasoline. I will leave Lebanon at the first opportunity presented.”
A consular officer told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Over the past year, there has been a significant increase in turnaround. The number of renewal applications submitted has exceeded those issued in previous years.”
He said, “There are no issues to mention at this time. According to the General Directorate of Public Security circulars, it is currently possible to submit a request for renewal of only electronic passports, not biometric ones, due to temporary technical reasons.”
He added, “The General Directorate of Public Security has limited the validity period of passports to five years, and canceled biometric passports valid for one, three or 10 years.”
According to the source, the fees for all consular transactions at all embassies around the world have nearly doubled since 2021 in order to increase the state's revenue in dollars.