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July 6, 2022

Window on the World Column | Summer Travel Woes 2022

I am a British Citizen, born in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, in 1963. I have lived in the USA since 1988 and have been a dual national and dual passport holder since 2003 without incident. I have always felt safer traveling the world with two passports, and my passport renewals in previous years went off without incident through our British Consulate office in Washington, D.C. Swift and efficient; that’s what you want from a passport office. That’s what you expect. You pay good money, and you expect good service in return. Until that doesn’t happen.

And now this. I went online to HM Passport Office, thinking that online would have to be an even swifter and more efficient way of doing business for my 10-year renewal. My first hurdle was the somewhat cumbersome “digital passport photo.” The first photo I did at a “Verified Passport Photo” department was no good. It had to be a “digital photo” and that is not a common practice for passport photos in California where I live. I finally found a photo lab that would perform one of those special things — naturally, for an extra fee.

I completed the form, uploaded the special photo, and delivered my valuable package with UK passport (that wasn’t expiring until April) via the U.S. Postal Service, Registered Mail.

There was a period of silence and then a text on Feb. 11, 2022, advising that the UK Passport (Durham office) had received my application. Oh, I like this texting thing; I thought to myself. Very efficient! On Feb. 12, the same text string reminded me to mail in my documents. Check. Had already done that. On Feb. 26, I receive a message advising they had not yet received my documents, but to ignore the message if I had already sent them. Well, I had of course, but that is a silly time period when you have already mailed your important documents first class air and registered delivery.

Finally, on March 7, they advise that the carrier pigeon had just delivered my documents and I breathed a sigh of relief. On Friday, March 11, and Thursday, March 17, I received messages that they had emailed me about my application, and it was being processed. All well and good. I had hoped that I would have my freshly renewed UK passport in my traveling pocket and ready to go by March 18, when I was due to fly back across the pond again, but no worry. At least I had my U.S. passport to fall back on.

On Thursday, April 21, I receive a text that HM Passport Office had withdrawn my application. Wait, what? Where was my blooming passport? My application, my British passport that was still active, was now in withdrawn status? It was time to bring in the big guns and get on the phone — surely, I could get some answers there. And quickly.

Ha! I spent five hours of that very same day, being transferred from one department to the other at HM Passport Office, because nobody could actually help me, or access my file in that department. No, they needed to transfer to me to someone who could; but I couldn’t find that person. It was a nightmare scenario. The tedious background music gave me the heebie-jeebies after a while; but I was very focused to establish the whereabouts of my passport and, what on earth, after 58 years as a British Citizen without even a parking ticket to my name, could be the issue of my passport renewal?

On the final transfer, a very nice Indian lady advised that the new law required that, if you hold a foreign passport in addition to a British passport, you must color copy each page of this passport and send this bundle of paper into the passport office to accompany your application. Could it be emailed? No, it could not. Could she make a note in the system, that I was unaware of this additional step and would be mailing said documents in to accompany my application immediately. No, she couldn’t make a note. Would it be likely that they would be able to marry up these documents with my other now festering documents in HM Passport Office if I supplied my unique reference code? No, that was unlikely too.

The most likely scenario, she noted very calmly, once they have withdrawn your application, is that they will mail your passport back to you — at some stage — and request that you start all over again. With a new passport fee.

It’s now April 30, and I have received no further communication about my passport application. I was just reading in the London Times about the continued chaos inside the HM Passport Office and I am not remotely surprised. I am only grateful that I have a U.S. passport to my name with a couple of years to go on it before it expires. Who knows, it could take that long to get my British one renewed; but I would really appreciate it if it didn’t.

You really must feel for the many people who do not have a second passport to fall back on and who are having their holidays canceled because of this. It has been a long 2.5 years in most people’s worlds and this is not acceptable. Horrendous stories are echoing all over the U.K. about families who are desperate to take a holiday and are not able to do so because their passport renewals are lingering in some moldy passport archive somewhere, surrounded by untrained workers who have no clue about how to help the ridiculously long lines of irate callers all seeking the same result.

If you are planning on traveling anytime soon and need to renew your passport, I would urge you to hurry it along with every dollar of expedited fees you can muster to accompany your application. I’m sure the U.S. passport offices are struggling with these applications in similar fashion, though one might hope that they are not quite as inefficient as the systems I have been dealing with overseas.

I’m about to start the new journey of PPRPart2 (PassPort Renewal Part 2) with a new fee — no idea why — in my quest to try and get my U.K. passport renewed. I have been a U.K. citizen for nearly 59 years now continuously. Truthfully, from birth.

With all this ongoing chaos in mind, I’m worried that I will never again receive that passport in my hot little hand. Wish me luck.

Lucy Jensen
Soledad Columnist
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