Thursday, 18 November 2021
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
196. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the reason a simple online adult passport renewal application by a person (details supplied) has been given an estimated target issue date of ten weeks from the receipt of the application considering that this persons last passport expired only months ago so it should only take ten working days for this application to be processed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56676/21]
With regard to the specific application about which the Deputy has enquired, the applicant mistakenly applied for a first time passport when completing the application form online. As a result, the estimated issue date given is in line with processing times for first time applications.
The Passport Service has contacted the applicant and informed them of what is required to progress their passport application.
197. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the current difficulties surrounding the emergency passport service; if his Department is reviewing the emergency telephone line to increase capacity due to large volume of callers; if persons can get an immediate urgent appointment with the passport office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56699/21]
215. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which he can put in place an effective turnaround for applications for passport renewals or new passport applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56791/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 197 and 215 together.
The Passport Service Customer Service centre has been operational since June 2021 in line with the scaling up of passport operations as pandemic restrictions were eased. Currently, 75 officers are responding to customer queries by phone and webchat as well as with enquiries related to Emergency Passport cases.
Since June, Customer Service officers have responded to 130,000 queries from customers. In October, the Customer Service Hub handled 27,000 enquiries from customers. The Passport Service very much regrets that on days of very high volume of passport queries, people have had difficulty contacting them. As a result, my Department is actively working to recruit and assign additional staff to improve our service and meet current and expected demand.
The Emergency Passport service is available free of charge in cases of medical emergency or death of a family member abroad. Proof of emergency is required to avail of this service. In cases of genuine and documented emergency, every effort is made to assist the applicant. In October alone 4,600 Emergency Passport cases were handled by the Customer Service Team.
Additionally, the Passport Offices in Mount St, Dublin 2 and in Cork now offer an Urgent Appointment Service for the renewal of passports. The Urgent Appointment Service ensures that, for those who unexpectedly require a very urgent turnaround of a passport renewal, there is an option available that is transparent, predictable and clear. It means that an applicant can book and pay for their appointment, safe in the knowledge that they will have their passport within a day, or a few days. To avail of the Urgent Appointment Service for Passport Renewal, applicants must first book an appointment to attend the public office in Dublin or Cork through the Department of Foreign Affairs website (www.dfa.ie/passports). Over 800 urgent appointments have been facilitated since the Passport Service launched this service on 27th September 2021.
Passport Service operations were severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, as were many Government services. Despite the consequences of the pandemic, the Passport Service has issued over half a million passports to date in 2021 and 45% of simple adult renewals issue within one business day.
My Department attaches the highest priority to ensuring that the Passport Service is resourced to respond to current and anticipated high demand for passports. My Department is actively working with the Public Appointments Service to recruit and assign additional permanent and temporary staff between now and the end of January 2022, bringing total staff numbers to 920 and effectively doubling the number of staff at the Passport Service. I am confident that these additional resources will help to improve customer experience and reduce turnaround times.
The Passport Service is working with relevant divisions within my Department to ensure the health and safety of all staff is prioritised alongside the business need to serve our citizens. Plans are at finalisation stage thanks to excellent co-operation from the Office of Public Works to ensure that additional staff will be accommodated to meet the anticipated unprecedented demand for passports in 2022.
The Passport Service continually examines how to improve processing times and engagement with applicants. Preparation is currently underway for several system and service improvements that will enhance the customer service experience and will improve processing times. These improvements will be rolled out in the coming weeks and months.
The current passport processing times are:
- 10 working days for Simple Adult online renewals
- 15 working days for Complex or child online renewals
- 40 working days for First Time Applications on Passport Online
- 8 weeks for An Post’s mail-in “Passport Express” service
The aforementioned passport processing times are based on current average application turnaround times and relate to passport applications submitted to the Passport Service with required supporting documentation. When passport applicants do not provided all of the requisite documentation to the Passport Service, it takes much longer to process the application and issue a passport.
Currently, there are 108,000 passport applications on hand at the Passport Service. Of the online applications on hand, 34,000 or 35% of applications are incomplete and the onus is on the applicant to submit the required documents to the Service. The Passport Service contacts applicants who have not submitted the requisite documentation. However, the Passport Service must wait in those 34,000 cases until the applicants submit the outstanding documentation that is required. While the Passport Service makes every effort to contact applicants in such circumstances, their experience is that many applicants take weeks and sometimes months to send in the necessary documents.
The Passport Service is attaching particular priority to the nearly 7% of online applications which have not been issued on or before estimated issue date which was indicated to the applicant. Intensive work is underway to eliminate this problem and these delays are regretted very much by the Service.
The Passport Service is currently experiencing a high demand for first time passports. Out of a total of 108,000 passport applications currently on hand with the Passport Service, 70,000 or 64% of these are first time applications.
These first time applications are necessarily complex to process, since they are essentially applications for Irish citizenship. The Passport Service must validate the true identity of the applicant and take measures to confirm the applicant’s entitlement to Irish citizenship. It is the statutory responsibility of the Passport Service to protect the integrity of the Irish passport. Accordingly, a rigorous analysis process is in place to verify the identity and citizenship status of applicants.
In the case of first time passport applications for children, the consent of guardians must also be thoroughly validated. Due to the intensive analysis underpinning first time online passport applications processing time is 40 working days.
In the context of the National Development Plan, my Department is making a major investment in the future of the Passport Service. Over the next couple of years, we will replace the core technology underpinning the service, which will deliver efficiencies and a more resilient passport system. Budget 2022 also included an investment of an additional €10m in passport services in response to the increasing demand for passports both at home and abroad.
I urge citizens to check the validity of their passports before booking travel and to ensure that they apply in plenty of time. In the case of people planning to travel in 2022, whose passports are already out of date or who have children who are first-time applicants, I would encourage them to apply now online.
Passport Online can be accessed by all first time applicants, irrespective of age both children and adults, in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Great Britain, Europe, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA. All Irish citizens, including children, can use the online system to renew their passports from anywhere in the world.