Thursday, 24 March 2022
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
104. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which the Passport Office continues to be upgraded and streamlined to deal with the higher volume of applications in a shorter time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15144/22]
122. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the number of additional staff that have joined the Passport Office to date in 2022; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15038/22]
134. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the current timelines for first-time applications and renewals of passports in Ireland; the number of passports processed to date in 2022 in comparison to 2021; the number of passports that remain to be processed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15483/22]
143. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if all additional staff for the Passport Office are now in place; the improvements being made on processing times on all types of passport applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15353/22]
154. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the measures that are being taken to address the issue of lengthy processing times for first-time passport applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15352/22]
160. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the number of passports still backlogged in the Passport Office; and the number of new staff that are now in full-time employment in the office. [15289/22]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 104, 122, 130, 134, 143, 154 and 160 together.
Over 264,000 passports have been issued from 1 January to 20 March 2022, compared to 21,000 passports issued over the same period in 2021.
The Passport Service is currently experiencing a high demand for passports. My Department has been pro-actively planning to ensure the necessary resources are in place to meet the current and expected level of demand throughout 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.
In recent weeks, the Passport Service has reduced the average turnaround time for first time applications from 40 working days to 35 working days. In addition, 45% of adult online renewal applications are processed in one working day.
In terms of staffing, the Department has been working with the Public Appointments Service on a major recruitment drive over the past several months. Since June 2021, over 300 members of staff at all grades have been assigned to the Passport Service, with 156 staff joining since the beginning of 2022. The current number of staff at the Passport Service is 774.
In addition to this, and to complement staffing recruitment through the Public Appointments Service, the Passport Service is running its own recruitment competition for Temporary Clerical Officers with a view to assigning additional staff and to maintain staffing levels throughout the year to meet the demand expected in the coming months. This competition is currently underway and once completed, will see staffing numbers of over 900 at the Passport Service, which represents a doubling of staff numbers since last summer.
It is a priority for the Passport Service to improve processing times in 2022, particularly for first time applicants. 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, including first time applications.
- Actively prioritising first time applications and directing increased resources to processing these complex applications with a view to further reducing the current turnaround time.
- Passport Service staff are working targeted overtime with a focus on key areas including first time applications.
- A new document management system was put in place in early March. This aims to improve the processing speed in the Passport Service offices, and turnaround times for applicants. One particular feature of the new system improves the processing time for applicants who have been asked to submit additional documents. Once the additional documents are received, they are prioritised and where applications are complete can now be processed in 3 weeks. This significantly reduces the processing time, particularly for first time applicants.
- A new Passport Service site in Swords, Co. Dublin opened in November 2021 and accommodates 140 staff. Works on expansion of the Passport Service site in Balbriggan began in January 2022 and it is anticipated that this will be completed in the autumn of 2022. This will accommodate 175 staff.
- Public information media campaigns reminding citizens to check and renew their passports will continue throughout this busy year.
- The Department of Foreign Affairs website has been enhanced and now includes a new passport service section where applicants can easily find out what additional documents are required for their type of 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
-35 working days for First Time Applications on Passport Online
-8 weeks for An Post’s mail-in “Passport Express” service
There are currently over 182,000 applications in the Passport Service system. While there is a very high volume of applications in the system, this does not represent a backlog. These applications are all being processed in the usual way, with a continuous stream of new applications and a continuous dispatch of completed passports happening every day.
Figures show that of the total number of applications in the system, 63% are fully complete and are being processed by the Passport Service. The other 37% 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.
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 35 working days to process.
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.