Thursday, July 27, 2017 | ePaper

Simplifying National Passport issuance process

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Dr. Md. Shamsul Arefin :
The Passport is issued to the citizens of a country for international travel. The passport is issued by the concerned Department or by any of its overseas Missions to the citizens who are citizens by birth or by descendant of a specific country concerned.
The passport-issuing authorities (PIAs) of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States have made the "five nations passport group" (FNPG) for strengthening cooperation among passport issuers to share best practices and discuss innovations relating to the development of passport policies, products and practices. All of the five nation's countries except Canada fully implemented the ePassport between 2005 and 2007.
When citizens pay passport fees, they are paying for a service. This service includes    identity verification as well as a number of security processes, in addition to the ultimate issuance of the physical document.  Passport offices are responsible for issuing, refusing to issue, and revoking, withholding, recovering and providing instructions on the use of passports with an understanding that the person may do any wrong that may harm the image of the country outside.  But these security check is maintained more strictly at the exit point i.e. Emigration point at the time of departure.
The Australian Passport Office is a division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It issues passports to Australian citizens, both in Australia and overseas, and its mandate is set out in the Australian Passports Act 2005.  With a population of over 22.5 million, the Australian passport possession rate is nearly 70%.
New Zealand passport Service is part of the Department of Internal Affairs. The legal framework for the issuance of passports is provided in the Passport Act 1992. New Zealand passport possession rate by its citizens is about 75% of its population of 4.3 million people.
Identity and Passport Service, an executive agency of the Home Office, is responsible for passport issuance in the United Kingdom. Its mandate is to provide passport services to citizens of the UK. The General Register's Office, which is responsible for administering vital statistics of its citizens in England and Wales is also responsible to make data available online maintaining security and confidentiality for the "Identity and Passport Service office".  UK introduced a newly designed ePassport during the fall of 2010.  The population of the UK is 61.3 million, and approximately 80% of UK citizens hold a valid passport. UK and Irish citizens have visa-free or visa on arrival access to 172 countries and territories.
In the United States, passport services are part of the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the Department of State. The organization's mandate is to issue passports to eligible US citizens.  The United States Postal Service operates thousands of Post Offices around the country that can accept passport applications on behalf of the United States Department of State. US Post Office accepts passport applications and provides services for a first-time passport or renewal passport application.
In France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Switzerland, the passport applicants interact primarily with Police Station or Local Municipal office or regional authorities, instead of a dedicated office of passport service.  In most cases, the same entity that deals with vital statistics about citizens also deals with passports. This convergence like national citizens' database simplifies identity checks for passport applicants through sharing database maintaining secrecy, privacy and confidentiality.
In France, passport applications are made in person in the offices of Local Municipality. The data is then sent to a local prefecture to be checked then it goes to the Imprimerie Nationale for printing electronically. The coordination and monitoring of this process is done through database sharing by the Agence Nationale des Titres Sécurisés, an agency of the French Ministry of the Interior.
It is mandatory for passport applicants to apply in person at their Municipality, where their facial photo and eight fingerprints are taken. Applicants must pick up their passport in person. When they go to get the finished passport, their fingerprints are checked against those on the passport. All printing is done in one centralized location  based in municipalities.
In Germany, passport applications are handled by Local Municipality. Since all German citizens must register in their municipality, their identities are firmly established at the municipal level. This means that passport applicants' information is readily available to authorities. Passport applications must be submitted in person and the finished passport must be picked up in person. Fingerprints are captured during both visits in Germany. The production of the passport is done by the national printer under the supervision of the federal Ministry of the Interior.
Italy, the National Police is responsible for the issuance of passports. Applications can be made at municipalities, police stations or the passport sections of the Commissariat for Public Safety, which are located in every Italian province. Passport applications must be made in person, as is the case with all Schengen Area countries, at which time the applicant's facial photo and fingerprints are captured.
The Japanese passport office is a component of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Local prefectures handle passport applications and issuance. Applications must be made in person, and applicants are notified by postal card or text massage when their passport is ready for in-person pick-up.
From these experiences and observations, it is seen that not only Passport office alone but there are other offices on behalf of the passport office like the Post office, local Police station, Municipalities, local Prefectures are authorized or designated places for receiving application or delivering passport inside the country for making things easier and hassle free for the citizens to obtain passport.  Counties with more density of population, overloaded with applications for passports,  where passport issuance rate is below 50% of their total population, where aspirant youths  for going outside for better opportunity or employment or for study or for treatment purposes with timeline, or where the domestic employment opportunities are less and trying hard for managing employment outside the country can take these best practices of the first world countries to expedite their processing time  of issuance  passport.   e-passport can also be an option to quicken  the service.
Again it is experienced that authorities are more alert and vigilant at their Emigration points than the time of issuance of a passport so that questionable passport holders cannot go outside the country and thus they cannot get chances to damage the image of the country when they are outside.
It is also experienced that sharing of citizens' database more electronically than manually among the authorities of law enforcers and the passport issuers can also be an option to ease hassle of service seekers and to minimize time for processes.  
(Dr. Md. Shamsul Arefin is Director General (Additional Secretary), Anti Corruption Commission Bangladesh.)

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