Home Ministry backpedals on new passport requirement

-signals longer processing time

The Ministry of Home Affairs yesterday lifted the recently-imposed two-year birth certificate requirement for first time passport applicants but announced that it may now take longer for the travel document to be issued since “a more robust verification process” will be needed.

The ministry advisory was released to the media via email about half an hour after the Central Immigration and Passport Office was served with the final ruling of acting Chief Justice Ian Chang to quash the six-month birth certificate requirement imposed in June.

Attorney Saphier Husain had filed a legal challenge to the requirement a month ago after an immigration official refused to accept his application for a new passport because his birth certificate did not satisfy the new criteria.

Justice Chang ruled in his favour but before the final ruling was delivered, the ministry announced that it was changing the requirement from six months to two years. As a result, last week a new challenge was filed by businessman Gainlall Sookraj after he presented a birth certificate issued in 2009 along with his application for a new passport. The application was denied by the immigration officer on the grounds that the birth certificate did not meet the requirement. That matter is still before Justice Chang.

Saphier Husain
Saphier Husain

Despite the court ruling, persons have still been turned away from the Central Immigration and Passport Office and dozens would flock to the General Register Office with a view of getting a new birth certificate to meet the requirement.

The ministry stated yesterday that in light of the concerns of members of the public along with the Guyana Police Force, it has “reviewed the entire system” pertaining to the issuance of passports. The system would entail the submission of a passport application form, birth certificate, one passport size photo and a fee of $4,000.

It must be noted that these are the very documents asked for when submitting an application prior to the June 5 advisory that announced the six-month requirement.

Yesterday’s advisory made no mention of a timeframe for the issuance of the birth certificate that is required.

The ministry explained that the intention of the requirement was to guarantee the integrity of             the newly implemented machine-readable passport system.

It noted that with the introduction of the machine-readable passport system, it had required that the Guyana Police Force would implement an arrangement where members of the public applying for passports for the first time would present to the Immigration Department birth certificates that were issued not more than six (6) months prior to the date of the application.

“Unfortunately this arrangement was not implemented by the Guyana Police Force, as required by the Ministry of Home Affairs,” it noted. The machine readable passports were introduced seven years ago, August, 2007.

Meanwhile, the advisory stated too that in relation to lost/damaged passports, the processing fee is $15,000 and additional conditionalities are re-quired to be satisfied to facilitate issuance.

“The Guyana Police Force through its Immigration Department will make all reasonable efforts to expedite the processing of the applications but the five (5) day processing time guaranteed by the Force is not likely to be honoured because of the need for a more robust verification process to accompany the production of the Travel Document,” the advisory added.

In an invited comment yesterday afternoon, Husain said that he was informed of the Ministry’s decision to return to the old requirements by a member of the press.

The attorney stated that what had transpired reflected the “dictatorial tendencies” of the government. He said that the rights of the Guyanese people should not be violated.

He made the point that it was after the second court challenge that the ministry “decided that they were in breach of the law.” Husain said that the political directors should have recognised the “folly” in this matter but he is glad that the ministry has finally recognised the rule of law.

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