Andrew Trigg: Five-year passport term causes visa problems overseas

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Short term of validity leads to unnecessary hassles, costs and travel, writes Andrew Trigg.

Even under normal circumstances, replacing your passport is a hassle. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Even under normal circumstances, replacing your passport is a hassle. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Editor's Note, August 24: A response has been added at the bottom of this article.

One issue it would be nice to see addressed this election year is passport legislation. When the previous government enacted the changeover to biometric passports, they also cut back the length of time New Zealand passports are valid for from 10 years to five.

This decision was made to boost Government revenues, but it was poorly thought through - a debility all too common in New Zealand politics. By contrast, China is legislating in completely the opposite direction: from five-year to 10-year passports.

Although five-year passports are rare in OECD nations, some countries, such as Japan, Korea and Canada, offer the choice of both five and 10-year passports. This is clearly a better alternative. If New Zealand were to adopt it, passports could be offered at two price ranges, giving our citizens flexible options without cutting into government revenues.

Kiwis make solid use of their passports.

As well as those of us who regularly travel overseas for business or holidays, the New Zealand media frequently claim that "up to a million" of us live permanently overseas.

The most common destinations for expatriates are Australia and the UK, although an increasing number are seeking employment opportunities elsewhere: a trend likely to rise as our population becomes increasingly multicultural.

Even under normal circumstances, replacing your passport is a hassle.

New Zealand passports can be renewed from only three locations: Wellington, Sydney and London. This can also be done by mail or courier, of course. But for many countries you need at least six months' validity on your current passport in order to obtain a visa which makes the process costly in time and money. Some countries like Vietnam and China don't even allow this last option and instead require six-months' passport validity beyond the duration of your intended stay. Given that our two-way trade is increasing with countries like these, it doesn't make sound economic sense to have legislation that could financially burden Kiwis who are resident or doing business in these countries.

Let's say you've just finished studying Chinese for two years at a university in Beijing and a New Zealand company now offers you a three-year contract in Shanghai.

However, to secure your business visa either you or the company will first need to fork out for a return flight to Wellington, Sydney or London, simply to renew your five-year passport - not to mention your hotel bills, extra fees for urgent passport processing and the fact that you got only two years of use out of your current passport.

To be sure, such a scenario could arise with a 10-year passport as well, although the chances of it would drop by more than 50 per cent. The main point here is the Government has no business restricting or unnecessarily complicating the potential movements of New Zealanders living here or overseas.

So what can political parties do about this before the election? For a start they could add a paragraph or so to the list of policies on their websites, stating how they might improve the passport legislation.

This may attract some overseas Kiwis who would otherwise be apathetic about voting. (As an expat myself, I'd consider any party willing to improve the legislation). To be sure, this would be unlikely to go viral among overseas expats and cause an election upset. But for the smaller parties the margins might perhaps be significant ones.

* Andrew Trigg is a New Zealand citizen who lives and teaches in Thailand.

Addendum, August 24 - Response from the Department of Internal Affairs:

Sir, Andrew Trigg's article in the New Zealand Herald on Tuesday deserves a reply. Mr Trigg questions the validity period of the New Zealand passport, the cost and the renewal process.

The move to a five year passport in 2005 was made so New Zealanders could continue to enjoy visa-free access to more than 50 countries, including the United States and to prevent fraud. The free movement of New Zealanders is largely dependent on the security of the New Zealand passport, the passport system and associated processes. The majority of New Zealand passports are used to travel to countries with no minimum validity period.

The cost of the New Zealand passport is funded purely by the people that get one, on a cost-recovery basis. There is no benefit to general government revenues from passport fees. All fees must by law be used for passports.

Applicants can renew their passports by post, courier, via a New Zealand embassy or consulate or at the Department's Auckland, Manukau, Wellington, London or Sydney offices. The Department plans to introduce online passport applications for adult renewals in 2012.

New Zealanders have a world-class passport. Our freedom to visit the countries we wish to depends on its security.

David Philp
General Manager, Passports
Department of Internal Affairs

- NZ Herald

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