Friday 12 April 2013

Thought Picnic: Living without an identity for 4 hours

I’m impressed
Despite the sometimes negative reports about tardy and inefficient passport processing activities at the government establishment that has gone through too many name changes for me to be bothered anymore, my three visits to the Home Office – Identity & Passport Service (IPS) have left me with no reason to complain.
In fact, the first was not a visit but it was when I changed my Nigerian passport for a British passport decades ago.
Time and cost
I decided against getting a British passport in Nigeria because the waiting time was 18 months though it would have cost me less than a fifth of what it costs to get the Entitlement to the Right of Abode (ERA) in my Nigerian passport but a waiting time of 3 weeks – I was planning on leaving Nigerian in 4 weeks.
For a few years, I got by with using my Nigerian passport in the UK until when returning from a visit to the Netherlands, the two of us Nigerian ERA passports became vectors of abuse because at the French customs held onto our passports for 90 minutes whilst they wondered if we were British enough to return home or not – that did it for me.
Quick and efficient
After a bit of procrastination, I filled in the forms and posted all the documents required on a Tuesday in London, by Saturday the letter dropped through my letterbox with a British passport – no interviews, no delays just efficiency – I was both shocked and surprised whilst glad I did not have to visit every embassy on God’s own earth to travel.
10 years later, I was living in the Netherlands and we are supposed to carry some form of identification with us at all times, though in the almost 13 years that I lived in the Netherlands, I never once was stopped in the streets to show my papers.
In fact, after 5 years of living in the Netherlands, you do have the option to chuck in whatever passport you have for a Dutch one. In my case, having a British passport does get you into more countries by default than any other passport.
Away from home
Again, I filled in the forms, visited the consular office in Amsterdam and was advised to return to pick up the new passport in 3 days despite the fact that old one had expired for weeks.
The only difference with this passport was that it had a Dutch issuing office but that seemed to faze one Dutch immigration clerk and I was left aghast at his ignorance.
In any case, my passport was to expire in November, but because of my travels, certain visas require I have at least 6 months left to run on my passport.
Time and cost again
I thought it best to consider renewing my passport before the summer holiday season when the passport office seems to be swamped with applications from travellers who have left it too late to get a passport with their holidays at the risk of being forfeited – I cannot live with that kind of stress.
The passport office offers a number of services for passport renewal, Premium 1-day service (4-hour turn-around), the Fast Track 1-week service or the normal service which could take up to 3 weeks or more.
You can trust that I weighed the consequences of time and cost like I did decades ago in Nigeria and I went for the Premium 1-day, which came to a fraction less than the cost of the normal service.
Village photographs on city forms
Whereas the normal service can be done through the post with some post offices offering and check-and-send service, the other two services require you visit a regional Identity & Passport Service office – working in North Wales, the nearest for my convenience was Liverpool.
What surprised me was my local post office in North Wales did not stock the passport forms, I had to visit a major city to pick up the forms, the first of which I made a mistake on, the second was wrongly guillotined and I finally decided on getting two forms and filling them separately at different times to minimise error.
Then for regulation photographs to go with my passport, the Chinese photographer who took the first set of pictures had me looking the palest shade of sick, I needed to try another photographer; that set was more vibrant in colour and after getting a few opinions, I decided on that set.
The essence of presence
I booked an appointment for a week in advance for 10:00AM in Liverpool and made sure my hotel was as close to the office as I could get.
We were not to arrive at the IPS office earlier than 10 minutes to the appointed time, I was there on-time, passed through security, checked-in at the reception and my ticket was called with 5 minutes – the checks took less than 5 minutes, I paid for the service and was asked to return in 4 hours for the new passport.
The collection time as set as 14:05 from the counter and that was to coincide with 4 hours from the moment payment was made.
New passport
I did return at a few minutes past 2:00PM and the security personnel observed that I had changed from a red tie to a white-speckled black day cravat – my passport was ready.
I was only without an identity document for 4 hours, it makes you wish other agencies like this for other countries were just as efficient, maybe I should resist the temptation of mentioning Nigeria – Sorry, I did.
I forgot to mention, the months left to run on my old passport were added to my new 10-year passport, you are allowed up to 9 months.

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