With hundreds turning up each day at the Central Immigration and Passport Office to apply for passports, many have been forced to endure hours of waiting, jostle for numbers to get into the line, exposure to the rain and sun or worse, told to come back the next day.
The noticeable surge in passport applicants came in April this year and the government and the Ministry of Citizenship have been criticised for not having answers considering that they had been in office for more than a year and had been aware of the need for decentralizing of the passport application process.
Amid the surge, Minister of Citizenship Winston Felix had blamed the increased numbers on trouble-makers spreading rumours that there would be a hike in the fees for passport applicants. Observers have however noted that the need for a new biometric passport every five years is now beginning to tell on the system. Prior to the biometric passport, the previous travel document could be extended up to 15 years which was a speedier process. Observers have also suggested that the higher numbers of non-immigrant visas being handed out by the US has spurred interest in obtaining passports.
Hundreds continue to show up at the Camp Road office without the government apparently having a plan to deal with the problem aside from an announcement that Lindeners who are already holders of a passport will be able to get a new one in Linden without having to come to town. This plan would be ready in the next few weeks. It is unclear what impact this will have on the current congestion at the Passport Office or what other efforts are being made to decentralise the process.
What is clear is that those turning up at the Passport Office aren’t doing so because of any rumour of a proposed increase in passport fees; they simply need a passport for a variety of reasons.
Over the course of four days: June 30, July 7, July 12 and July 13, Stabroek News visited the office to speak with citizens about their experience with the application process.
The visits occurred at 10:00 hrs on June 30, 14:00 hrs on July 7, 07:30 hrs on July 12 and 07:00 hrs on July 13.
A total of 33 individuals were interviewed, including couples and lone parents with their accompanying children, who were often young in age. Of that number, several individuals said their task that day was to apply for a new passport after theirs would have expired.
Most of the interviewees, counting their children, divulged that they were first-time passport applicants. More than half of the persons Stabroek News spoke with who were first-time applicants had travelled as families.
The majority disclosed that their reason for seeking a passport now was because they intended to travel soon on vacation, while other purposes included use for work, immigration (one family planned to move to Suriname), or in one case, to participate in sports.
Those questioned said they were unaware of any talk of a possible hike in passport prices, which it had been suggested, had led to a sudden influx of persons at the office.
In a letter to Stabroek News earlier this month, Felix had said that there were nearly 400 applicants at the office per day and it was stretched to the limit. This had required the re-imposition of a daily quota.
He had added that it was unfortunate that the building could not accommodate all of the applicants but that this was entirely dependent on the apportioning of funds from the APNU+AFC government to the police force.