Passports are issued to the citizens of a country for international travel. They are issued by the concerned department or by any of its overseas missions, to those who are citizens by birth or by descent.
The passport-issuing authorities (PIAs) of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States have created the “five nations passport group” (FNPG) to strengthen cooperation among passport issuers, to share best practices and discuss innovations relating to the development of passport policies. All of the five nation's countries except Canada fully implemented the e-Passport 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 not do any wrong that may harm the image of the country abroad. But these security checks are maintained more strictly at the exit points, (i.e. emigration points) 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 percent.
The 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's passport possession rate with a population of 4.3 million people is about 75 percent.
Identity and Passport Service, an executive agency of the Home Office, is responsible for passport issuance in the United Kingdom. The General Register's Office, which is responsible for administering vital statistics about its citizens, is also responsible for maintaining security and confidentiality of the “Identity and Passport Service office”. UK introduced a newly designed e-Passport during the fall of 2010. The population of the UK is 61.3 million, and approximately 80 percent of UK citizens hold a valid passport. British 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 organisation'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.
In France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Switzerland, the passport applicants interact primarily with the police, 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 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 before it goes to the Imprimerie Nationale to be electronically printed. 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 fingerprints are taken. Applicants must pick up their passport in person. When they go to pick up their passport, their fingerprints are verified with those recorded. All printing is done in one centralised location based in municipalities.
In Germany, passport applications are handled by local municipalities. 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 the authorities. Passport applications must be submitted in person and the finished passport must be picked up in person. Fingerprints are taken during both visits. The production of the passport is done by the national printer under the supervision of the federal Ministry of the Interior.
In 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 taken.
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 message when their passport is ready for pick-up.
From these examples, we can see offices other than the Passport Office, like the Post Office, local police station, municipalities, etc. being authorised (or designated) to issue or deliver passports to citizens. This makes the whole thing easier. Countries with large populations are sometimes overwhelmed by the number of passport applications. In a country where the passport issuance rate is below 50 percent of the total population, the youth are looking to travel abroad for various reasons and there is a large number of migrant workers, it would be an intelligent decision to adopt these policies and practices from the first world nations. E-passport is also an option to quicken the process. Electronic sharing of information between law enforcement agencies and other relevant organisation is also an option to consider to save time and ease things for service seekers.
The writer is Director General, Anti-Corruption Commission.