RIYADH: Up to 70 percent of passport control officers based at key Saudi airports could be women by next year, a top military training official has revealed.
The Saudi General Directorate of Passports has started training 760 new female recruits for the soldier-ranked roles, to be assigned to the Kingdom’s land, sea and air entry and exit points. The latest intake will be the second group to pass through the directorate’s training center covering the regions of Riyadh, Makkah, Madinah, and Dammam.
Brig. Gen. Dr. Saleh bin Saad Al-Merbaa, director of general administration for training in the passport department, exclusively told Arab News that the course was part of a preparatory program for passport control officers.
“We are proud to have the largest number of female employees in all ports, land, sea and air, who are qualified and skilled to represent the whole country, not only the passport department. They are the first to welcome visitors to Saudi Arabia and the last to say goodbye,” Al-Merbaa said.
“We can’t deny that females have proven themselves in this major compared to their male colleagues. The international airports in Saudi Arabia are going through a major transformation this year and maybe by next year you might even see 70 percent female staff.
“In the first training course, we accepted 299 female applicants, this year in the second training we accepted 760 female applicants hired as technical officers. The trainees are divided in different locations, 230 in King Khalid airport in Riyadh, 250 in King Abdul Aziz airport in Jeddah, 141 in Prince Mohammed bin Abdul Aziz airport in Madinah, and 163 in King Fahd Causeway in Dammam,” he added.
Al-Merbaa pointed out that training was divided into two parts, the first being two weeks of theory, which included the examination of documents, military and security culture, work ethics and behavior, passport procedures and skills.
“In each course, we make sure trainees get a real experience by providing real materials and objects to practice from. For instance, in the examination of documents course, we provide trainees with a real document that has been forged to give them a sense of reality in what is happening in the ports.
“All of these courses are given by qualified experienced trainers to connect the theoretical part with the practical part,” said Al-Merbaa.
The second part of the program will involve trainees undertaking a three-day course in automated passport systems, in cooperation with the National Information Center. “After that, trainees will be under supervision and observation for 30 days in their assigned work to make sure they are ready.”
Al-Merbaa said that as Saudi Arabia expanded its tourism sector it would need to have employees who could speak a range of different languages in order to meet the needs of visitors from all around the world.
Military training was currently optional for females but would be required in the future, he said. “We encourage females to enter military training even though it’s not required. We already have a group that entered the training which took four months in King Fahd Security College’s female training institute.”
Alhanouf Al-Enzi, a trainee on the program, said she chose the job because she loved to interact with people. “I see it as a good opportunity for us. We are the second batch, and since I studied English it will help my career, especially in this job, and help me to communicate with visitors in the airports and understand their needs.”
Wafaa Al-Enzi said she had given up a job as a clinic receptionist to join the passport control officer training scheme. “My husband was the first to support me, even at times when I didn’t feel too confident. He was with me during the whole process.”
She pointed out that working in the forgery department had particularly interested her. “I loved the idea of working in the passport department especially in forgery. It is very interesting and every day you discover and learn something new. I want to develop myself in the forgery department and I’m pretty sure I will learn a lot from the courses provided here in the training program,” Al-Enzi added.
Enshirah Al-Harbi, a former English teacher, told Arab News: “I’m excited to work in a public place, in an environment that allows me to give the best I can for my country.
“I know that I will get involved with old people, some of whom will not know the rules and the system. So, I can help to facilitate them and make their trip or life easier. It is a humanitarian job.”
Noura Al-Fraiyan, a qualified trainer in forgery, said: “I love to introduce the forgery course in an exciting way in which trainees will enjoy their time learning how to differentiate between a forged document and a real one. The trainees love this class.”