There was a horrible period of history during the medieval period where torture was the favourite method of forcing a person to divulge information. Often this was a slow drawn out process where the poor victim could suffer in brutal agony for long periods of time before dying… I recently discovered to my horror that this awful process of slowly inflicting agonising pain on a person in the process of getting information has today been modernized and become known as the Australian Government’s passport application process.
There are very few things in life that are as frustrating as applying for a passport, in fact so few that right now I can’t think of any at all, i’d even put the process on a par with watching annoying tourists while travelling, and that’s a big call. These processes are ridiculously covered in red tape and seem to be stuck so deeply in the past that in comparison smoke signals appear quite modern.. (although some modern application processes are being streamlined, like the visum usa-ESTA system in the US which has pulled everything into a neat online application). Recently I went through no less than four separate passport interviews before my application was finally approved enough to be sent off for processing, FOUR! Each interview had to be accompanied by a new passport form, filled out (yet again) with the correct details, signatures, photos etc.. The first time the form was rejected was because my head was 1mm too large in the photos (which they had taken a week earlier!), the second rejection was because I had used blue ink not black and the third was because my signature had the audacity to creep outside the tiny marked signature box at one corner. The fourth and subsequent court appearance were because I tried to strangle the poor post office worker who had just rejected my last application (yes, that’s a joke, but you get the idea).
So after what seemed like a ridiculous amount of time spent on my paperwork, getting my forms in order, the correct signatures, photo sizes and experiencing more interviews than if I was on a murder trial, I finally had the application submitted. With my wallet about $300 lighter I walked out of the post office wondering why a person can apply for credit cards, schools, kids (adoption forms), or even a wife (or husband) online, but apparently not a passport. Passports still required you to fill in paperwork with a pen and submit documents so old and faded that Gone With The Wind was still a new release, even though we now supposedly live in a digital age. This experience got me wondering exactly what this same process would be like in another country and if this bureaucratic red tape covered most of the world or just my tiny corner of it.
“The queue in PSKs (Passport Seva Kendras) is so long that we have to wait several days and hours to get to the counter.” – Unlucky Indian passport applicant.
After some quick research I discovered that my problem was more or less universal. In India, apparently some of the application queues take so long it can take days to get to the front, and this is a country where less than 5% of it’s population hold a valid passport. Ok so that was India, but what about other 1st world nations like the US, a country where around 30% of people hold a passport? By the numbers of Yahoo Answers pages asking questions similar to: “Why does it have to be soooooo hard to get a passport?” the situation there really didn’t seem any better. Also with some new developments the State Department are now apparently reviewing their application processes to be sure to include such vital pieces of information as “Are you circumcised?”… Why the current aesthetics of my penis should have any impact on a government vouching for my citizenship (all a passports really is) goes way over my head.
In a truly fantastic letter one irate US citizen sums up his thoughts on the USA’s passport application process: “You send the application to my house, then you ask me for my #*&#%*& address!?” Well put sir, a fantastic point!!
A passport seems like a pretty simple idea right? Your government gives you a bit of paper that says you are who you say you are, giving you permission to do certain fun things away from home like long term travel (the point of this torture), in theory it’s like a really official note from your mum. I understand the need for security (because let’s be honest we ALL forged those notes in school), but in a digital age where we are all connected, most governments are producing biometric passports (which I would argue removes the need for a passport all together) and yet the process of applying for one of these technological advances in international travel still seems to be stuck somewhere between the neolithic period and the dark ages.