Local Brits caught in passport backlog

Update: From Monday, June 23, British nationals living in the Cayman Islands can apply for their passports to be extended for 12 months.  Details of how to get a passport extension can be found at https://www.gov.uk/browse/abroad/passports.

To make an appointment please contact the Governor’s Office on 244 2431 or [email protected] 

Original story: Long delays with British passport renewals in the U.K. are also affecting overseas residents – including Brits in the Cayman Islands – who are seeking to obtain new travel documents or renew existing ones.  

Screaming headlines in the U.K. press and uncounted comments on social media have revealed horror stories of delays at the U.K. Passport Office, with reports indicating that nearly 500,000 passport applications had been backlogged following a decision to “centralize” the processing of British passports announced in late 2013.  

According to press reports, the U.K. passport office was presented with evidence of lengthy delays in mid-May following a decision to shut down overseas passport processing centers, including one in Washington, D.C. 

The closures were certainly noticed by local resident Natalie Ramsay, who sent off an application for her youngest son Sullivan’s first passport on April 2. “I’m yet to receive it,” she said.  

The delays were a surprise to Mrs. Ramsay, who got her elder son’s first passport from the British Embassy in Washington within a few weeks back in 2012. She said she had checked a couple times on its progress and was told “everything’s fine” as of late May.  

“Then I got an email about 10 days ago saying that they didn’t have my son’s birth certificate and that they needed supporting documents to prove where I live,” she said.  

Mrs. Ramsay had requested that the passport be sent to her business address, which the passport office apparently couldn’t do without a letter from her employer. She said she didn’t know about that when she sent in the passport application. Meanwhile, it appears the passport office lost her son’s birth certificate.  

“They’ve just not really anticipated how many people require passports,” she said. “I’d hoped to have my son’s passport before the start of hurricane season.”  

Massive Equipment Rentals CEO David Kirkaldy, who has been attempting to renew his British passport since early May, is getting anxious about his family’s vacation scheduled for the first week in July. Mr. Kirkaldy said his passport application is now in the “examination” phase, where examiners double check information provided in the reference documents with the passport applications.  

“The rest of the family have valid passports, I guess they could go without me,” he said, referring to the planned trip to the United States. “I’ve started calling [the U.K. passport office] on a daily basis. You really can’t do anything … there’s no way to expedite it faster.”  

British nationals living overseas can apply to extend their current passports for 12 months beyond the normal expiry date without being charged additional fees. However, that can only be done if the individual applying hasn’t already sought to renew their current passport. It can also only be extended if the passport expired less than six months ago or if it will expire within the next three months.  

Mr. Kirkaldy said he’s already put some business-related travel on hold because of the passport renewal issues, but said he really doesn’t want to miss out on the pre-planned family trip.  

“It’s turning into a down-to-the-wire situation,” he said.  

Cayman passports  

Although they are not currently being processed in the U.K., that is the plan starting next year for British Overseas Territories passports, including those held by the Cayman Islands.  

The overseas territories passports are separate from the British passports and, at least for the Cayman Islands, will continue to be handled separately after they are repatriated. Local government officials said earlier this month that Cayman would continue to use its current stock of passports and start repatriating the passports to the U.K. around May 2015, although that date may have to be pushed back.  

The Cayman Islands has previously rejected any option involving the replacement of the passports bearing its name with U.K. passports, but indicated that the territory did not like any of the proposals made regarding the issuance of new passports with biometric identification chips from the UK. Currently, Cayman Islands passports issued locally do not have biometric ID chips in them.  

East End MLA Arden McLean questioned officials in Legislative Assembly’s finance committee on how long it might take to get a Cayman Islands/British passport back from the U.K. once the new scheme is implemented. “England has been horrendous in their ability to process passports, even for their own people,” Mr. McLean said. “Right now, the British passport is taking three to four months.”  

Premier Alden McLaughlin said the length of time it takes is more like two to three months, but agreed the repatriation issue remains a concern to local officials.  

“We have made representations about this [to the U.K.],” the premier said. “[We’ve asked] the U.K. passport office to accept facsimiles of Cayman Islands passports. If they agree with our proposal, they wouldn’t have to be sent the Cayman passport.”  

Mr. McLaughlin hopes that Cayman Islands passport application information can eventually be transmitted to the U.K. via secure emails, without the need for local residents to send their passports away.