Wednesday, 2 March 2022
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
118. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps he is taking to reduce the delays for first-time passport applications; and the number of backlog applications awaiting processing. [12150/22]
The Passport Service is currently experiencing high demand for first time passports, particularly for children. My Department has been pro-actively planning to ensure the necessary resources are in place to meet the current and expected level of demand in 2022 and is making an unprecedented investment in the Passport Service in terms of additional staff and improvements to the passport processing and customer service systems.
My Department is working with the Public Appointments Service on a major recruitment drive that has been underway for several months. Since June of 2021, over 300 members of staff at all grades have been assigned to the Passport Service. Additional staff are being assigned on a weekly basis with a goal of reaching staff numbers of 900 which represents a doubling of staff numbers.
It is a priority for the Passport Service to improve processing times for first time applications in 2022. The Passport Service is implementing a number of further measures that will positively impact the current turnaround times and improve customer service:
- Intensive training of new staff and upskilling of existing staff is underway to increase the resources that can process complex applications.
- The Passport Service is actively prioritising first time applications and directing increased resources to processing these complex applications with a view to reducing the current turnaround time.
- A new document management process is being put in place in the coming days that allows for a much quicker turnaround time when an applicant is asked to submit additional documents. Once these documents are received, they will be prioritised and complete applications will be processed in three weeks. This will greatly reduce the waiting time for applicants who are missing documents in their initial application.
We are confident that the measures that have been implemented will help to reduce passport turnaround times in the course of 2022, particularly for first time applications, and will assist the Passport Service in meeting the high demand forecast for this year.
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
First time passport applications do take longer to process than renewal applications and there are a number of reasons for this. First time applications are necessarily complex to process, since, in many cases, they are 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 first time 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 and extra measures undertaken by highly trained and experienced staff, first time applications take 40 working days to process. In cases of children whose parents are not Irish citizens, the process can sometimes take longer due to the need to ensure that all of the required supporting documentation to prove the child’s entitlement to Irish citizenship is submitted and correct. Due to the high level of complexity with these particular applications, further documentation is often required adding to the processing time.
There are currently over 160,000 passport applications in the system. While there is a very high volume of applications in the system, this does not represent a backlog. There is a continuous stream of new applications and a continuous dispatch of completed passports happening every day. Passport Service figures show that 57% of applications are fully complete and are being processed by the Passport Service. The other 43% of applications in the system are incomplete, which means the Passport Service is waiting for the applicant to submit the necessary documentation 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.
I strongly urge anyone who is considering travelling overseas this year, particularly families with young children, to check the validity of their passports before booking travel and to apply for their passports online in plenty of time.