Government inefficiencies depriving Bermudians of right to freedom of movement – OBA
The One Bermuda Alliance has questioned what steps are being taken to accelerate passport applications, which have slowed to a crawl this year.
Jarion Richardson, the Shadow Minister of Labour and the Cabinet, said that while the Government has blamed Britain for the delays, the turnaround time for those renewing their passports with the United Kingdom has fallen.
He added that the “Government’s inefficiencies” were depriving Bermudians of the constitutional right to freedom of movement.
“It’s clear that the primary issue is not the quadrupling of passport applications but the inability to adapt to change,” he said.
“Bermudians also have the option of renewing their British passports online with Her Majesty’s Passport Office directly, with a turnaround of between eight and ten weeks.
“Why, then, is it taking so much longer via the Department of Immigration. Perhaps Bermuda should look at UK‘s passports distribution channels.
“It’s now been a month since Jason Hayward, the Minister of Economy and Labour, promised additional staff and the return of passport-processing times to 11 weeks. Has any progress been made?”
Mr Hayward said in the House of Assembly last month that a significant surge of passport applications had caused extended delays, with some applicants waiting more than 20 weeks.
He also said that additional requirements put in place by Britain had strained the system and required staff to undergo additional training.
Since August 2021, Britain requires immigration staff to check if applicants are dual British citizens.
Staff have also been required since 2016 to establish how each applicant is entitled to a British Overseas Territories Citizen passport.
Mr Richardson, however, said that the Government should have been able to adapt to the new requirements by now.
“In the case of the 2016 requirement, it is shocking that the ministry has not yet administratively adapted to provide why someone is eligible for a passport to HMPO,” he said.
“And insofar as the 2021 change, requiring the ministry to determine whether an applicant is a dual British citizen, such expertise should not be so difficult to acquire.
“Indeed, if anyone should have such expertise it should be the Department of Immigration.”
Bermudian passport holders have faced a series of challenges since Britain took over the printing of passports for the Overseas Territories.
Britain warned this year that those who apply for passports or passport renewals should expect longer waiting times because of a surge in demand caused by the end of travel restrictions.
HMPO has warned applicants that they should allow up to ten weeks for applications to be processed, although the wait could be longer for those applying from another country.
British-printed Government of Bermuda passports have also caused headaches for some holders as they were coded with the British GBR rather than the traditional Bermudian BMU.
The change has caused challenges for travellers who seek to return to the island through the United States.
While Bermudians do not require visas to enter the US, and that agreement still stands, those who hold Bermudian passports printed after 2016 face questions and delays when they attempt to check in for flights in jurisdictions unfamiliar with the arrangement.
Successive ministers and premiers have highlighted the problem.