Why It’s Taking Absolutely Forever to Get Your Passport Renewed

australian passport delays

Going abroad post lockdown has meant getting quite a few things in order. First, it was vaccine information, then COVID testing, and now thousands of us are renewing expired passports. All of these things required waiting, but none more so than getting the necessary blue travel book we all know and love.

Despite warnings for months that delays at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade would impact Aussie holidaymakers, those wishing to go abroad are still having their dreams crushed by the system.

The Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, which handles complaints about federal departments, has been inundated with angry Australians stressed about missing or almost missing long-awaited holidays.

RelatedThe Weird History of Australia’s Passports and Why They’re Now So Expensive

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Passport renewal pre-pandemic took around three weeks. In April, when delays first began to kick in, the Australian Passport Office doubled their expected wait times to six weeks. However, on social media, stories of people who are still waiting for their passport to be renewed after lodging their application in April or May are not uncommon.

It’s worth noting though that stories of people getting their passports renewed within two weeks are also not uncommon.

Experiences relayed to the ABC from soon-to-be passengers include multiple phone-calls to the passport office asking for updates on delayed passports. These are from people who applied for the documents months in advance and still came close to missing their flights. The biggest concern here seems to be the lack of clarity in the whole process and the apparent inability for officers to speed up delayed applications.

Why Do Passports Take So Long?

Passport renewal is not a luck-of-the-draw situation but neither is it a hard and fast rule that you will experience long wait times. DFAT explains on their website that some applications take longer than others to complete either due to missing information or more detailed individual assessment. In addition, children’s passports take longer to process due to increased security checks on them.

Much like airlines, the passport office has been a source of frustration for many. Unlike the airlines though, DFAT appears to have predicted a surge in applications and has been attempting to rectify the situation

According to Traveller, passports take just three seconds to turn from a ‘blank’ to a fully-fledged legal document. The APO churned out roughly 7,000 of them every day in 2020 and yet currently they’re receiving around 8,500 daily applications. That’s bound to cause some issues.

According to one APO spokesperson, the department has doubled its staff since late May from 730 to 1,500. Expecting the backlog to surge this year, the APO has also sent out 2.3 million text messages to Australians whose passport has expired or is close to expiring. Travellers need at least six months on their passport if they are to be granted entry to a country. Given the demand dropped to less than half of what they normally see during 2020 and 2021, the APO was anticipating such a rush — although perhaps not quite to this degree.

Delays are so bad that Australians are being urged to pay extra to have their passport fast-tracked if their needs are urgent. Doing so adds $225 to the cost of a passport, but it does mean you’re likely to receive it in just a matter of days. APO staff have also said that they can turn passports around even more rapidly for compassionate reasons. This has led to wild scenes posted on social media showing hundreds of people queuing up at passport offices around the country of late, trying to plead their case for an instant print of a new document.

The Australian passport is already one of the most expensive in the world, thanks to all of the security tech that’s woven into it. A global ranking this year placed it at number 43 in terms of best ‘value for money’, given the relatively high cost and the relatively low number of visa-free entries the Australian passport grants you. However, the more authoritative Henly passport index has ours at joint-8th, which doesn’t quite give you the full picture as there are 21 jointly ranked countries above us in terms of visa-free access.

The renewal price of $308 plus the expedition fee could potentially add thousands to the cost of going abroad for a family.

While complaints have been up over the past few months, the APO has said that their current log appears to be dropping. That suggests that most people have either got their documents or that the peak of the passport crush has passed as new staff ease the delay. The latter would make sense, given the holiday period is coming to an end and passport applications are likely to be dropping.

Still, if you need a passport for an upcoming trip, make sure to lodge the application a good few months in advance just to be sure. Expedition fees are not normally required to be paid unless you’ve left it really last minute but it’s worth noting that these can also be added to an application up to six weeks after submission.

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