British expat mothers in Gulf caught up in passports fiasco

Many cannot escape region's hot summer as they face long delays waiting on documents for newborn babies

Many British expat families are being forced to spend the hot summer season in the Gulf as a 12 year high in passport applications means they face long delays securing documentation for their newborn children to travel back to the UK, Arabian Business has learned.

"Her Majesty's Passport Office took over the processing of all passport applications from British Nationals across the globe in March 2014,” a HM Passport Office spokesperson told Arabian Business in statement.

As a result, British Prime Minister David Cameron said up to 30,000 passport applications have been hit by delays, with expats likely to face the longest delays.

"Overseas applications are now subject to further security checks to align with our processes for domestic applications. These checks can take significantly longer than those made in the UK. We will not issue a passport until all checks have been satisfactorily completed.

"Processing times have therefore increased for UK passport applications submitted overseas. We acknowledge the frustration our customers may be experiencing and will continue to review our guidance on estimated processing times," the statement added.

Cameron said the Passport Agency is currently dealing with about 465,000 renewals and first-time passport requests, and it is sending out around 150,000 passports a week. With passport applications reaching a 12-year high, 250 extra staff have been deployed to help clear the backlog.

While reports in the UK claim tens of thousands of British holidaymakers are being forced to delay or cancel their holidays as a result of the delays, expats based in the Gulf are unable to travel back to the UK and have been faced with excessive delays, especially those with newborn children applying for their first passports.

“Some women have been waiting nearly four months and are furious. Some have given their kids their husband's nationality rather than British - Italian and South Africa in two cases - just to try and get a passport,” one Dubai-based mother with a two month old baby told Arabian Business.

“Those of us with new babies face daily fines of up to AED100 once our visa grace period of 120 days is over, because we can't get our kids visas without passports. I strongly suspect the UK passport office doesn't have targets for overseas Brits in terms of how quickly they have to turn around their passport applications - for UK-based Brits, it's three weeks - so expats are getting the worst of it,” she added.

Another Dubai-based mother said she had been waiting eight weeks for her applicant to be processed and was still hoping she will not have to cancel her travel plans back to the UK and she and her newborn child won’t be stranded in the UAE for the hot summer months.

“I haven't cancelled my flights yet but we are preparing ourselves for that. Am just about to ring the passport office for an update as I am now officially 8 weeks waiting and was told I could only really get some 'progress information' once I'd hit that waiting time.

“I lodged a complaint with them and was told that someone would call me back within 3 working days. Nobody has. Since then I have written to the CEO Paul Pugh [the interim chief executive of the Passport Office] to complain and not received a response. I am now about to write to David Cameron,” she added.

When Arabian Business contacted the British Embassy in Dubai to ask what they were doing to help expat mothers facing such long delays it declined to comment.

A Passport Agency spokesperson was asked to comment on the delays facing expat mothers but said it was unlikely it would have time to respond.

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Posted by: Steve Wonder

Was it me but I only had to wait for 4 weeks to get my new UK Passport? That was during May this year and it was clearly stated to me on the web it would take about 4 to 6 weeks.

Posted by: Taz

I think your all missing the point.

The point is that we have paid for a service and therefore regardless of where that passport has come from it should be treated on a basis of first come first served.

If the service was free then fair enough we expats should wait but it is not and as such the Government has taken a lot of money from us and in turn has not invested that money back into the system to provide the service that they have taken on board themselves to provide

Where our money has ended up is the question!

Posted by: Colin Occupants

Can you explain in detail what these extra complex security and document checks for ex-pat passports actually are?

From my experience, you send back your old passport along with a similar, if not the same, online renewal form that non-expats complete.

Are they paying these temporary workers in their Liverpool office that handles overseas applications to check my Facebook profile or something?

Posted by: Doug

Your money (along with all the cash paid by people in Britain) is presumably paying for cost of taking the extra staff to process demand. It also probably pays for the more intensive and complex security and document checks that have to be made on expat passports.

It also pays the wages of the office staff involved, who unlike in this region won't be working for $1 an hour. If you choose to live outside Britain, you're going to have to accept that you're going to be secondary to those who live in Britain. Your passport application is by definition more complex, and every hour taken on handling yours probably keeps two or three people in Britain from getting theirs back. British people in Britain come first. We don't.

Posted by: Doug

The point that's missing from all this is it's not just expats who are affected.

British citizens in Britain are also facing delays too. And unfortunately, here's a sad fact for you:

If you're British and live overseas, you're unimportant.

You of course have a basic right to travel freely as allowed by your passport. But so do Britons, living in Britain. And of course they will be put ahead of British expats in the queue - they're the ones paying tax in the UK, the ones travelling overseas to secure business deals before returning home, the ones who will be able to vote in the next election. You cannot expect to effectively withdraw from Britain and then expect the country you have left to support you as vigorously as if you were playing an active role in that country.

If you are unhappy with the British Government's abilities to meet the needs of people who don't even live in Britain or contribute anything meaningful to it, there's a very simple answer.

Posted by: Doug

@Mark - actually, that's a fair point to make. I was wrong to suggest expats are at the back of the queue. It's just that their checks typically take longer AND at the moment, Britons in Britain are already experiencing delays. So if they're having problems, guess what? We'll just have to wait longer.

With regards to voting, yes, you are entitled to vote, assuming you have put all the arrangements in place for a proxy or postal vote. Hands up how many expats here have bothered?

As for the benefits claimant - I am of course, being slightly tongue in cheek, but for the record, if the last boss of Emirates applies for his passport at the same time as Mr McNed, he'll still be waiting for longer than wee Jimmy for his passport because of the generalised delays in the passport service.

The point is, everyone in Britain is having to put up with this too. It's disingenuous to suggest that expats unfairly have it worse.

Posted by: Mark Renton

Doug, do you have an official source for this policy of putting expats to the back of the queue? Or is it just your pet theory based on your flawed assumptions about the contribution expats make to the UK? As far as I can see the whole system is in chaos, they are not specifically providing a bad service to expats.

FYI, expats are allowed to vote - for up to 15 years after you left the UK. Many have UK source income, and pay income tax on it. And of course the benefits-claimant in Aberdeen is more important to the UK government than an expat company boss - that is why they knighted wee Jimmy McNed and not the last two bosses of Emirates airline...oh, hang on....

For someone who claims to be a UK expat you don't seem to know much about the UK. Or being an expat.

Posted by: Doug

@turk971 - Yes, I am a British expat living in the UAE. I just happen to recognise that those living within the UK will be seen as more of a priority than people like me, and I don't have a problem with that. I made my choice to move out of the UK and live somewhere else, therefore it is absolutely right that the British government should prioritise someone living in Derby rather than Dubai.

We don't vote. We don't directly pay income tax. Most of us are probably here because we found something wrong with Britain. So when we apply for our passports, we go to the back of the queue. The fact is, that some unemployed benefits claimant in Aberdeen is a more important priority than the company boss in Abu Dhabi. If you're rich enough to go home for three weeks and spend �157 a day then you're rich enough to wait and rebook your flight - your personal wealth doesn't make you important....and I think it's that reality check that's upsetting my fellow British expats here.

Posted by: Billy

None of you have mentioned a very important point from the article. New born babies are very susceptible to bugs etc, they thrive on fresh air and such early, constant exposure to the inherently unhealthy atmosphere caused by the a/c's can have a lasting effect on their health. If the trip to a better environment at the start of your new babies life, to help them develop a substantial immune system and start their life in as healthy a way as possible, is prevented by delays outside of your control at the passport office I think you have every right to be angry. This is not whinging or whatever other terms the hateful people have used here. It is frustration at not being able to give your child the very best your own hard effort has allowed you to offer. No parent can ever feel good about that. Other peoples situations who are worse off than you, whilst adding perspective and thankfulness for good fortune, do not diminish from the anger at the unhealthy start being forced on your baby.

Posted by: Davie

I'd like to ask what you can do if you need to travel and don't have a passport back. Can you get an emergency travel paper from embassies here and will you be able to leave the UAE if you can't show a passport with an entry stamp in? Thanks

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