Millions of Kenyans risk being stranded due to passport delays

Kenyans, who will not have received the newlook passports by Thursday next week, will be barred from travelling into or out of the country.[Beverlyne Musili, Standard]

Top officials in the Directorate of Immigration Services and ministry of Foreign Affairs remained mum yesterday over the fate of millions of Kenyans yet to obtain the new generation passport due to State-acknowledged hitches even as the deadline lapsed.

Kenyans, who will not have received the new-look passports by Thursday next week, will be barred from travelling into or out of the country.

Some Kenyans, who plan to fly back home ahead of the Christmas and New Year festivities, also now risk being locked out.

A similar fate may befall students and traders.

Already, some countries like Spain and other European Union (EU) members are not accepting the old passport from Kenyan travellers. Kenyans with the old generation passports had until November 30 to acquire the new biometric digital ones, Immigration Director General Alexander Muteshi said recently.

"Pursuant to the decision by the East Africa Community (EAC) Council of Ministers held in Arusha from November 22 to 29, 2021, the deadline for phasing out of the old generation passport for EAC Member States is November 2022," Mr Muteshi said.

"In line with this decision, the Directorate of Immigration Services wishes to inform the general public that Kenya is bound to migrate to the new East African Community biometric e-passport by November 30."

The State recently admitted it was facing challenges in facilitating the rollout of the new-generation passports. Mr Muteshi told Senate's National Security, Defence and Foreign Relations Committee that due to financial challenges, printers currently in use are old and obsolete, with a capacity of only 1,500 passports per day against a higher demand of up to 10,000.

"If we buy new and modern printers, we will be able to reduce the backlog by printing 10,000 passports per day," he said last week.

By the time of going to press, Muteshi was yet to respond to The Saturday Standard queries on whether Kenyans in diaspora who have not yet obtained the new passports will be have a reprieve.

Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Alfred Mutua also did not respond to our queries.

When he visited Nyayo House this week, Interior CS Prof Kindiki Kithure said they need Sh150 million to buy a new machine. In interviews with The Saturday Standard, many Kenyans in the Diaspora said while they had applied for the passports on time, getting them takes time and called for an extension.

"President William Ruto, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Alfred Mutua all say diaspora will be facilitated and assisted," said a Kenyan who identified herself as Melissa.

"Scrapping the November 30th e-passport deadline will be a costless gesture but enormously positive for us who are proudly Kenyan overseas. They should reconsider," she said.

"The reason countries are denying us visas without e-passports is because our government keeps saying the document will be invalid. The government is creating its own negative feedback loop.

Most foreign countries have no rules about e-passports even for their own citizens," said Melissa.

Kenya rolled out new chip-embedded passports for its citizens to tame rampant forgery and impersonation of holders. The new features are meant to make it impossible for anyone to forge or duplicate a Kenyan passport.

"Everyone wants to come home to see their family after two years of the Covid-19 pandemic. People have bank, tax, business and social contracts and arrangements to settle, also after two years of Covid. There are newborns to register, driving and marriage and property licenses to deal with already backlogged and delayed by Covid," said a Kenyan living in India.

"And all these folks will be stuck till January. Bear in mind they might be coming from countries that refuse to renew their work or re-entry permits precisely because Kenya keeps threatening to cut off the passports. So now they are stuck in limbo," he added.

"We earn money to send home. We need to travel to export goods and services, and the Kenya economy benefits from our taxes, tourism, remittances, and investments," said Elizaphan Ochieng.

"The whole world was beaten up by Covid, and every other country is working overtime to make things easier for their diaspora to continue earning. Why can't we?" she posed.

The new e-passports conform to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) passport security standards that require them to have a tamper-proof electronic chip with a holder's information and travel history.

Roll-out of the e-passports with a 10-year validity period marked the beginning of the end of the 'analogue' passports that have been in use since independence.

The decision to migrate from the old passport to the new e-passport was first made public in April 2015 and the launch was scheduled to be in December 2016. This was pursuant to a directive of the EAC Heads of States' Summit for a common travel document to facilitate each movement of people.

The e-passports were to replace the ordinary and diplomatic passports and are embedded with tamper-proof chips which store the holder's biodata - name, photo, fingerprints, date of issue and expiry of the passport, national identity card information as well as information on the holder's travel itinerary.

*Some names have been changed to protect the identity of those we spoke to.