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For the people of Britain the backlog and workload problems are causing annoyance and anger, but this has now spread overseas as expats are finding their applications caught up in the backlog.
Until recently British citizens abroad could simply take a stroll to their local embassy and apply for a new passport. In Thailand that serviced was stopped and applications had to be processed via Hong Kong.
The system was then changed largely because passports had become more sophisticated and use biometric technology for security. Embassies around the world simply do not have the equipment required to produce new biometric passports.
In December cost saving measures were also introduced and all regional offices were shut and Britons globally must now apply for their replacement passports in the UK.
This gives overseas Britons two options, either they can travel to the UK and take advantage of the ‘one day’ service that an cost a huge amount in air fares or send their application, along with their old passport to the UK passport office in Liverpool, an process that can take up to six weeks. This means that for at least six weeks the applicant is unable to leave the country where they live and for some that is impractical and if you do regular visa runs in Thailand your timing has to be very accurate, not forgetting that legally in Thailand you should have your passport on you at all times.
If you dig around a bit and make some long distance phone calls you will discover that it is actually possible to simply send a copy of your old passport but only in “exceptional circumstances” that are determined on a case by case basis. However this comes with its own set of complications such as the second the new passport is issued the old one is cancelled. If your new passport takes several weeks to get back to you, you are still left with no passport and unable to travel.
A report in Sky News said that a British bride-to-be, living in Hong Kong, has been waiting for her replacement passport for eight weeks. She still doesn’t have it. Her wedding, in Bali, is in two weeks.
A Briton living in South Africa who’s taking a group of South African children to the World Cup, had been waiting 15 weeks.
A British businessman living in Hong Kong told us he’d waited 10 weeks. His new passport has just arrived but the passport office forgot to send back his old one which contained his visas. He is therefore still unable to travel.
The Home Secretary Theresa May today announced a series of additional measures to ensure people and families receive their passports in good time for their summer holidays.
Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO) is dealing with the highest demand for passports in 12 years and has issued over three million passports so far in 2014. Since January, HMPO has been putting steps in place to deal with the extra demand and the overwhelming majority of people continue to receive their new passports within three or four weeks.
But recognising people’s understandable concerns about delays, the Home Secretary said she is determined to do everything possible, while maintaining the security of the passport, to speed up the system.
Overseas customers renewing an existing passport will be able to apply for it to be extended for 12 months. This will be done by consular staff in the country where they apply and appointments can be made from Monday 16 June. No additional fees will be charged and the security of the passport will not be affected.
Emergency travel documents for children
Parents or guardians of children living overseas who wish to travel to the UK will be able to apply for an emergency travel document in place of a new or renewed passport for their children. This will be available from the week beginning 16 June in all British diplomatic posts that have access to the passport database, subject to checks to confirm nationality and identity.
Upgrades for urgent travel
People in the UK who have an urgent need to travel will be able to upgrade their application without charge. This means that after their application has been through the proper checks, the processing, printing and delivery of their new passport will be fast-tracked for free. To qualify, customers must be booked to travel within the next 7 days and their application must have been with the Passport Office for longer than the standard processing time of three weeks through no fault of their own.
Customers will be asked to provide details – such as flight numbers and travel company – to confirm their travel plans. The ‘urgent need to travel’ upgrade is open to all those who have applied by post from within the UK and who meet the criteria above. Unless there are valid compassionate grounds, this will not apply to adults applying for their first passport, as they still need to attend an interview to confirm their identity. The upgrade is available immediately and can be requested through the Passport Adviceline. It is a temporary change and is not retrospective.