Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i displays e-passport. PHOTO | COURTESY
For the second time, the government of Kenya extended the deadline to acquire the e-passport to March 1 2021 to what it termed as poor turn out for migration.
“We note with concern that 1.8 million Kenyans, mostly in the diaspora are yet to replace their old [passports with the East African community biometric e-passport,” Interior CS Fred Matiang’I said in the statement.
March 1, 2020, was set to be the deadline, and foreign missions have not been accepting the old passport for visas.
However, what was not brought to the fore is the mismanagement of the entire process.
An announcement by Deputy President William Ruto on December 2, 2028, to extend the deadline to 2020 not only raised concerns about the ability to meet the timelines but also caused confusion among foreign missions in Nairobi.
For instance, Belgium Embassy in May said “based on the announcement of the Kenyan government, the old Kenyan passports will expire on 01.09.2019. The Embassy of Belgium in Nairobi will only accept the new East African Community biometric e-Passports for Schengen visa applications.”
The US Embassy had also directed that all travelers to the United States from Kenya must have a passport valid for at least six months from date of entry. Therefore, it said it would no longer place visas in the previously issued non-digital passport expiring August 31, 2019.
Speaking to Kenyans living in Italy, Ruto announced a new deadline of 2020, noting the initial deadline of August 31 last year was impractical.
“The deadline is soon approaching and only a small fraction has managed to upgrade their passports to the new e-Passport. The backlog at the immigration will not allow us to achieve this,” Ruto said.
Some embassies have, however, communicated that the initial deadline stands.
Pointing to poor communication and management of the transition, the Star last year reported that interviews with various embassies indicated they are yet to receive any updated in regards to the extension.
Some said they will continue issuing visas on the old passport.
“It’s not a worry. We shall cross that bridge in August. It only started, relax,” Foreign Affairs PS Macharia Kamau told the Star when asked if they had communicated to missions in Nairobi on any development.
Immigration Services director Alexander Muteshi, however, confirmed to the Star that the deadline remains September 1 this year.
At the time the Deputy President made the announcement, only about 400,000 out of more than 2.5 million passport holders had renewed the travel document.
The only Kenyans missions that were set to receive applications for the new passport starting January 24 were in the US (Washington DC), UK, Germany, France, UAE (Dubai), Germany and South Africa.
Essentially, these meant Kenyans in diaspora would be forced to either travel to these states or back home to renew their travel document, which is a tedious process at the Immigration office at Nyayo House. Although the application is online, applicants have to drop their hard copies at Immigration.
MFA had on November 20 last year wrote to Kenya’s foreign missions asking them to prepare for the issuance of the new passports.
In March 2019, President Uhuru Kenyatta said there was no reason Kenyans living outside the country should incur huge financial costs to travel back home to acquire the new passports.
“Form a team that will go from country to country to register Kenyans in the diaspora. No Kenyan should be forced to spend money to travel to Kenya to get passports,” President Kenyatta said in Windhoek, Namibia.
However, that team is yet to be formed.
LACK OF WORKERS
In Jube last year, CS Matinag’I rolled out the issuance of e-passport in four new locations across the country.
The centres in Nakuru, Kisii, Eldoret and Embu were expected to serve at least 1,500 applicants and would rationalise the issuance of the new-generation passports ahead of the earlier set August 31 deadline.
Unfortunately, however, these centres did not get enough officers to the new responsibilities and are barely operational.