level 5

'Enough is enough now - I need my passport back': Months of frustration as Passport Office backlog stands at 83,000

Applicants who submitted documents as far back as November and December are still waiting to get them back.

THE PASSPORT OFFICE currently has a backlog of around 83,000 applications, as people who’ve applied for passports are still left waiting months after first submitting them.

The Journal has spoken to many applicants who say that the delay in getting their passports processed and documents returned to them is harming their career prospects – preventing them to take up new jobs – and preventing them from visiting family for essential reasons during the pandemic. 

Last month, we reported that parents who had to submit their own passports as part of the application for their child to get a passport may have to wait as long as six months to receive their own back.

This is because the Passport Service has paused most of its operations in line with Level 5 restrictions currently in place in Ireland since late December. 

The cessation of most operations has left many who submitted applications without either their passport or their supporting ID documents. These documents could include a person’s own passport or their Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) card, which is an essential document for non-EU nationals in Ireland.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has said it will resume operations once the country returns to Level 4 restrictions and that any backlog will be cleared within “six to eight weeks”. 

The Passport Office also said last month it would begin to issue more passports after expanding the criteria for what is a reasonable excuse to travel during the period of Level 5 restrictions.

A spokesperson for the department told The Journal that it has issued 22,000 passports since 1 February. So far this year, this has included 2,400 urgent applications and 200 emergency passports.

However, with over 80,000 still part of the backlog, there are many going months on end without a passport and the additional documents they submitted.

‘Enough is enough’

A doctor in her mid-30s gave birth to a baby girl last summer.

After receiving her daughter’s birth certificate, she submitted an online application for a passport for her daughter in November. 

She then sent her own passport in along with other documents to support the application in mid-December.

“Following this, the online passport application tracker updated our application to advise that the expected issue date of 8 January 2021,” she said. “Since then, my passport has been retained by the office and there has been no progress with processing my daughter’s passport.

This has left us in a situation where I have no identification for starting my new job in July, my daughter has no identification to enable us to open a bank account on her behalf – to lodge money gifts from her grandparents – and given we are both without passports, we cannot even make preliminary travel plans for the future, which will no doubt have financial implications.

In a webchat accessed through the DFA website this week, the woman explained her situation and was told the application for her daughter’s couldn’t be processed at this time. 

She asked the customer service agent if her daughter’s passport application would be cancelled after six months and was told “the system cancels the application once it has been in the system for that amount of time… unfortunately, you would need to re-apply again”. 

A spokesperson for the DFA, however, said that “passport applications are not being automatically cancelled due to the passage of time”. 

“A small percentage of applications are routinely cancelled during the application process for reasons of duplication of applications, incomplete supporting documentation or to facilitate a request for refund,” the spokesperson said.

In any case, the woman said she’s been left in a situation where “we have no legal identification for the purposes of applying for mortgages or new jobs”. 

“Outside of the lockdown and Level 5 restrictions – which I fully respect and observe – people have basic rights which are being blatantly disregarded by government,” she said.

“The passport office provides a vital and essential service to the citizens of this country. In closing its doors, they are denying people their constitutional entitlement to a passport.

There is a gaping fundamental difference between banning travel and denying citizens their constitutional right to a passport. They justify the closure of the office based on Level 5 restrictions. But it seems that the definition of what constitutes Level 5 is quite fluid in recent months, so why not just open the Passport Office again?

The woman added that she’d contacted her local TD and was seeking legal advice on the matter. 

The Journal has spoken to other people in similar situations. In one such instance, a Moroccan national who has been recently naturalised as an Irish citizen cannot be issued with her first passport here at present. 

She wished to travel back to Morocco for family reasons but cannot have this application processed.

Applicants have described their frustration at the process taking so long at a time when other jurisdictions continue to provide passports.

‘Undue worry’

Fine Gael TD for Dublin Rathdown Neale Richmond said he’s received a plethora of correspondence from constituents who’ve been affected by the passport backlog issue. 

He told The Journal: “I’ve a friend in Northern Ireland, even. He’s entitled to a British and Irish passport. He’d no real desire to have a British passport but got one of them, because he couldn’t get his Irish one renewed.”

Richmond also outlined another case he was aware of an Irish citizen in Denmark who’s applied for a passport for his child. 

“You need it in order to get a Danish PPS number and child benefit,” he said. “At the same time he’s in Copenhagen, the DFA had his passport and all his documents in Iveagh House. If he had to travel for an emergency, he wouldn’t have been able to.”

The Dublin Rathdown TD said that a number of representations had to be made on this individual’s behalf to get the situation sorted.

“Myself and TDs across the House have raised this,” he said. “In issues of genuine emergency, it can be sorted. But it creates so much undue worry and hassle for people at the same time. 

There has to be a way to do it. Otherwise the backlog could take an awful long time to clear. We had finally had our passport system to a level where it was working really efficiently. Which is a really big credit to everyone involved at the DFA. But we’ve paused all that now. 

The DFA spokesperson said that the service is still processing emergency applications and cases where the applicant has a reasonable excuse to travel as defined under the recent amendment to the Health Act 1947.

Under this act, it will process passport applications for people who can show proof of needing to travel for reasons such as work, education, to attend a funeral or attend to family matters such as providing care to vulnerable persons.

The spokesperson said: “Applicants who require a passport for these purposes should contact the Passport Service via the Customer Service Hub Webchat function on the DFA website once they have evidence to substantiate their request.

“The Passport Service has ensured that appropriate resources are in place to respond to such requests. Irish citizens who are resident overseas should make contact through the local Irish Embassy or Consulate General.

“At present, there are approximately 83,000 Passport Online applications in the system. When operations resume at Level 4, all applications received via Passport Online will be processed. The Passport Service is confident, taking into account measures to ensure a safe workplace, that any Passport Online backlog can be cleared in six to eight weeks.

“While normal processing of passports has been paused, the staff of the Passport Service continue to produce emergency and urgent applications, to offer customer service through WebChat and to assist with consular assistance for Irish citizens overseas. Our Webchat team have answered more 32,000 queries this year. The essential work which is now being prioritised at Level 5 is the registration of documentation and processing of emergency and urgent applications.”

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