A lengthy queue for new passports is catching out some New Zealanders trying to make the most of eased border restrictions.
The time to process a standard passport has jumped from 10 days to an estimated 21 – with some people waiting much longer – as the Department of Internal Affairs grapples with about 1500 applications a day.
Camilla, who lives on Australia’s Gold Coast, said it made her trip home for her sister’s wedding earlier this month very stressful.
Despite applying more than six weeks in advance, she ended up spending $1000 to move her flights, and travelling four days later than planned.
“The time just kept creeping up. There was still nothing so I kept calling. You get stuck on the phone for two hours every time you call. They said, ‘it’s still in processing’. And then it got to about a week before I was set to fly and they said it still hadn’t been processed,” she said.
“That’s when I got pretty angry.”
DIA executive service delivery and operations deputy chief Maria Robertson explained border announcements had prompted a “massive upsurge” in the number of people applying for new passports.
The spike coincided with a high level of staff absence, due to the Omicron outbreak, and came after a long period of “suppressed” demand, she said.
“We’ve only been issuing at about 20 percent of what we’d ordinarily been issuing for about two years, so it’s a pretty rapid change.”
However, Robertson said only a “very small” number of people were waiting longer than 21 days.
In most cases, staff were waiting for the customer to supply more information to support their application, she said.
Robertson said the DIA was bringing in a temporary workforce to speed up processing times, but she warned it would take some time for those people to be fully trained.
Her advice was to “look ahead” and apply as early as possible, checking the application had everything required.
She expected demand could continue for some time.
“Over the past two years 540,000 passports that would ordinarily have been renewed, have expired,” she said.
Camilla said she was fortunate that she had planned to travel well in advance of the wedding, but she wished she had applied for the faster service.
Urgent applications cost twice as much, but are generally processed in three working days – and that had not changed, according to DIA.