Bahamian adults with e-passports are now able to apply for renewals online for a “smoother, safer and faster” process, according to an announcement from the Passport Office.
Yesterday, the office officially launched its online portal for e-passport renewals, which successfully completed its pilot launch from May to mid-September of this year.
This launch is considered phase one of a program to modernize passport services, with a second phase to incorporate online e-passport renewals for minors in the works.
“We now expect the passport experience to be a more pleasant one,” said Acting Chief Passport Officer Siobhan Deane at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the online portal yesterday.
“We anticipate that persons, especially those that are technologically savvy, will breathe sighs of relief and be happy to take advantage of this innovation and thereby avoid and also reduce the long lines and wait that have previously occurred.”
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Peter Deveaux-Isaacs also spoke to the goal of reducing the long lines that Bahamians have had to contend with.
“People are tired of standing on long lines,” he stressed. “They are tired of standing, waiting to get their passports. The passport is a central document, for every Bahamian.”
Dubbing the launch a “red letter day” for the ministry, Deveaux-Isaacs added, “I can tell you that you should expect to see an improvement in the service that we deliver to Bahamians.
“You should expect to see the service time increase, the time and the delivery of the service, the expediency that they will use and they will deploy to make sure that we get these passports to people in time.”
Many Bahamians have experienced frustration with the process for renewing their passports or applying for a new one.
In March of this year, scores of disgruntled applicants lined up outside the Passport Office on University Drive from as early as 5 a.m. in attempts to receive service, with some even having to return for multiple days.
In June, Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield noted that the office had challenges but said that help was on the way.
Henfield was not present during the ceremony, however Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Marvin Dames was on hand to address the crowd.
“The online portal is an alternative that will serve to relieve the waiting lines at the passport offices for the renewal of adult e-passports,” Dames said.
“Once the online application is successful, our citizens will be able to collect their documents from the New Providence and Grand Bahama passport offices or from one of our missions in the United Kingdom, China, the United States of America and Canada.”
He added, “Further, to adequately facilitate the online operations, an online unit is now operational, complete with a help desk and operators to assist the general public with any technical matters that may arise during the application process.”
The anticipated turnaround time is seven to 10 business days, however during the process, applicants can also indicate whether the request is an emergency or pay an additional cost to have their request expedited.
Deane said applicants will be able to pay online as the website is secure, noting that the fees will remain the same and “if you want it expedited it will be a $200 fee plus the cost of the passport”.
She noted that applicants will still have to come into either a local passport office or overseas missions to provide biometrics, however.
“They will have to come in because we now need to get their biometrics to verify their identity,” she explained.
“Hopefully it should just be for the first time, for this time moving forward.”
The new process is also intended to add convenience for Family Island residents as it was confirmed that plans to add satellite stations on Inagua, Exuma, Long Island and Eleuthera are in the works to be “up and running by early next year, first quarter of next year”.
However, Deane noted that there are “logistics we have to do in terms of space accommodation and making sure the infrastructure is there before we can do that”.