In the wee hours of Monday morning *Joy Wambui, with her two children in tow, left Nairobi for Embu on a mission; to replace her old passport and, for the first time, get her daughters the new generation electronic document.
Wambui, who plans to travel to the United States in a few months time, was escaping the long queues at Nyayo House Nairobi— the Immigration head offices — but little did she know that similar fate awaited her at the regional office.
On arrival at the immigration branch a few minutes to 10am, she was dumbfounded to learn that she was late. The branch, whose every-day capacity enables the local officers to serve only 100 people, had the day’s slots taken up.
“ I had taken my daughters off school for the day and made the long trip to Embu thinking it was not as crowded. I was surprised to find the long queue. It took begging for them to finally serve me minutes to 4pm,” said Wambui. The branch, previously not as busy, has seen the number of people flocking in increase over the last few days as people rush to beat the August 31 deadline which will render the previous generation passport invalid.
Another applicant who visited the Nakuru branch the previous week told the Business Daily that the queue was bearable and that he got served within one hour.
Issuance of e-passports at Nakuru and Embu branches was silently launched by the Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i on June 12 alongside the Kisii and Eldoret offices, after the Immigration office decentralised passport issuance from Kisumu, Mombasa and Nairobi to serve the large number of people showing up to replace the document for the more secure version.
The centres have now reported increased foot traffic that the State has now issued a new directive that will see individuals with confirmed travel schedule given first priority.
“Please note that Department of Immigration officials at all passport issuance centres report to work at 6am and leave at 7pm in order to serve applicants.
Additionally, we can only serve a specific number of applicants; this is the reason we kindly request people to come the following day, instead of queuing for long hours,” said Director of Immigration Services, Alex Muteshi.
The new generation e-passports feature a microchip containing data about the holder which also matches the information in the passport booklet.
The e-passport allows information stored on the chip to be verified with the information visually displayed on the booklet.
Due to its highly secure nature, the e-passport avoids reproduction and tampering, and enhances imposter detection.
The country’s adoption of the e-passport also comes after Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was accorded Category One Status by the US.
Kenya had pledged to shift to e-passport from September 1, 2017 as part of its commitment to the International Civil Aviation Organisation standards.
Besides, the East Africa Community (EAC) partner States had originally agreed to phase out the individual national passports for member States in favour of a block’s e-passport.
They originally agreed that member states start the issuance in 2017, however members kept postponin.
So far Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda have rolled out the issuance of e-passport while the progress made in Burundi and South Sudan remains unclear.
The new generation passport seekers are required to submit applications online, on the e-Citizen platform, which are then printed centrally in Nairobi. Applicants are required to appear in person at immigration offices to allow for their biometrics to be taken, including photos and fingerprints.
Reports indicate that the Kisii and Eldoret centres remain under-used as residents continue to flock Nyayo House, which remains preferred by a majority who are thronging in from various parts of the country unaware of the existence of other centres.
About 1,000 people have, since June 21, when it became operational, visited the Kisii facility either as fresh passport applicants or seeking a replacement, according to the Kisii passport control office.
To serve the diaspora communities, earlier in the year, the immigration department unveiled passport centres in Pretoria, London, Paris, Dubai, Washington and Beijing.
The centres at the Kenyan embassies abroad means Kenyans will no longer need to travel back home to apply for new travel documents.
The Immigration Principal Secretary Gordon Kihalangwa told Parliament last month that the department is serving an average 4,000 passport applicants daily.
And an estimated 800,000 electronic passports had been issued three months to the deadline amid congestion at the issuing centres.
Already countries in Europe’s border-free Schengen area stopped accepting visa applications on the old passport beginning June 1, the 26 member countries said in a statement.
The US had issued a similar statement but retracted.
The department is also set to continue issuing passports, as part of its routine services, and has, therefore, urged locals with no immediate plans to avoid the congested centres or lodge the documents anytime in the future.