20 May 2024

Passport delays cause applicants to pay an extra $1.2m for urgent service

1:23 pm on 20 May 2024

By Thomas Bywater of NZ Herald


Almost a third of New Zealand passport applications in the past six weeks came through the "urgent processing" queue as travellers attempt to beat a backlog in processing.

An unintended consequence of the backlog could have the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) making hundreds of thousands of dollars in expedited passport applications.

The passports.govt.nz website carries a warning that a standard application was taking up to 10 weeks to process.

"If you need it sooner, consider using our urgent service," the website said.

Figures shared with the Herald by the department show that of 69,960 passport applications made between 1 March and 15 May, 20,824 went via the more expensive fast-tracked route.

About a tenth (6205) of applicants initially submitted via the "standard" service, but paid to upgrade to "urgent" after concern it would not meet their travel deadline.

This comes after the DIA issued an apology for the "sharp increase" in the average time it takes for a passport to be issued.

With an urgent adult application costing $412, double that of a standard ($206), the DIA received an additional $1,278,230 from applications that otherwise would have been standard ones.

The urgent application stream, which takes three working days to process, was reportedly unaffected by delays.

While there were several reasons travellers may choose to pay to speed up their processing, the backlog was contributing to this.

One traveller told the Herald they felt compelled to pay the extra fees or lose money on cancelling overseas travel.

"I had to upgrade to 'urgent' to make sure the kids can come on holiday later this month," they said.

They received the expedited passports within 24 hours of paying for the upgrade.

After contacting the passport service, the family were given the option of either paying for the urgent service or withdrawing applications for a full refund.

The department said the backlog was due to a systems upgrade in March, and additional resources were being made available to clear the backlog.

"DIA expected and planned for the system upgrade to temporarily affect productivity and passport timeframes, but the effect was sharper and more prolonged than expected," read a statement from the department last week.

More staff had been deployed to resolve any production issues and help address delays.

"Reducing wait times is a priority for the department," said Maria Robertson, DCE service delivery and operations, adding that the gap between processing applications was narrowing.

Staff were "running weekend and overtime shifts to increase processing capacity" to clear what was described as a short-term backlog.

At present, the biggest delays in passport processing were due to passport photos not meeting guidelines, or correspondence with applicants being left unanswered.

Advice to travellers waiting on delayed passports

Although just over half of passports are being dispatched in under three weeks, the DIA warned processing might take about 10 weeks.

However, the advice to customers applying for passports remained the same:

Travellers needing a new passport should give as much time as possible before travel, and allow for delivery and wait times given via the application web portal.

One of the most common factors delaying applications was passport photos. Applicants were advised to read the full guidance on pictures because unsuitable photos will extend processing times.

Another common factor for delay was waiting on applicants to submit additional information. Travellers waiting on passports should check back on passport applications regularly, and respond promptly to requests from the DIA.

There were more than 9000 passport applications awaiting further information from the customer, the DIA said.

- This story was originally published by the New Zealand Herald.

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