Bahamas’ Overseas Offices to Process e-Passports

NASSAU, Bahamas – The Bahamas’ overseas offices are being set up to process applications for electronic passports for Bahamians living abroad, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs the Hon Brent Symonette confirmed.

Speaking on June 11 in the House of Assembly during debate on the $1.7 billion national budget, he revealed that his Ministry has been given a budget of $21,889,462 for fiscal year beginning July 1.

This represents a decrease of $1,883,478 compared to the current budget “and is symptomatic of the hard economic times which we are presently experiencing,” Mr. Symonette said.

Hon. Brent Symonette

The Passport Office is one of the “critical areas” of the revenue-generating arm of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he said.

During the past 10 months, the Passport Office issued 19,072 e-passports, which generated $928,010, Mr. Symonette reported.

And, the Ministry’s combined consular offices overseas processed 1,235 e-passports, which earned income of $31,572.

“We expect to see a substantial increase in these figures during the next fiscal period due to improvements to the Passport Office, and our overseas consular offices coming online,” he said.

The e-passport system was officially introduced in December 2007. The government signed a contract with Indusa Global, a Greenville, South Carolina-based information technology development and consulting firm, for an estimated $12.7 million to provide four systems to initiate the project. The International Civil Aviation Organization, of which the Bahamas is a member, has mandated that by 2010, all countries must be issuing machine readable or e-passports.

To correct many of the difficulties faced in the process, the Passport Office has occupied the second floor of the Basden Building on Thompson Boulevard. Additional staff was also hired, Mr. Symonette said.

Also, the Ministry is relocating the section dealing with the issuance of certificates of identity to the former Ministry of Foreign Affairs, East Hill Street. This should have a significant impact on the number of persons waiting for service, he said.

The Ministry is set to relocate the Freeport Office to the ground floor in the Regent Centre, to facilitate the introduction of the e-passport system. Police Superintendent Clarence Russell has been seconded to head this office.

The Ministry has hired a systems administrator with responsibility for the technical aspects of the e-passport system, Mr. Symonette said.

The process will allow persons to apply online for a passport, similarly to the United States Visa Department system.

“We look forward to a successful testing and implementation of this system, which will alleviate the current congestion from the high demand for e-passports,” Mr. Symonette said.

He advised applicants for e-passports to “apply now” if they intend to travel in August, as it takes about six weeks to complete the process.

He also urged passports holders to renew their passports if it expires near the end of the year. The Passport Office would return the document while the e-passport is being processed.

“However, once your e-passport has been produced, you will be required to return your old passport to the Passport Office for cancellation before the new one is handed over,” Mr. Symonette said.

To those applying for their first passport, further documentation such as school records, parents’ and grandparents’ birth certificates are required to authenticate their entitlement to Bahamian passports, Mr. Symonette said.

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