Closure of passport offices inconveniencing the diaspora

The closure of passport offices in the country as part of measures by the government to curb the spread of Covid-19 is inconveniencing Zimbabweans working outside the country who want to renew travel documents as well as regularise their stay in host countries.

The Registrar-General offices which remained closed for the greater part of last year during Covid-19 induced lockdown periods, opened briefly towards the end of year, with priority given to those working outside the country.

However, that was short-lived following the placing of the country under a 30-day lockdown which came into effect on January 5 and later extended by a few two weeks to February 15 as coronavirus infections and deaths kept going up.

The lockdown meant that no passports could be applied for or even collected as the registry offices country-wide only processed burial orders.

Some Zimbabweans working in neighbouring South Africa expressed concern over the issue saying should the passport offices remain closed that would affect their work permits.

Those who sent top-up letters from the Zimbabwean Embassy in that country said they feared the letters would expire before the top-ups have been made.

“My passport expires on the 23rd of February,” said Themba Khabo, who is based in Johannesburg.

“The permit remains valid although I am likely to face challenges at work.”

The Zimbabwe Community in South Africa said the delays in the renewal of passports was a serious cause for concern.

 “This has had a huge negative impact as people are struggling to renew their passports,” Bongani Mazwi Mkwananzi, the association’s spokesperson, told CITE.

“We will recall that the majority of special permit holders received their passports in 2010 and all those passports are to expire this year. The process of renewing is quite a challenge given the fact that application dates have to made online through the Zimbabwe Consulate in South Africa and the number for collecting forms is limited per day due to Covid 19 and people have struggled to get dates.”

The other challenge, Mkwananzi said, was to then send passports forms to Zimbabwe, adding a lot of their members were struggling to do so.

He expressed concern over those passports which were applied for last year but are yet to be released.

“It appears the government is no longer giving priority to those applications calling on those who did apply to top up,” he said.

“In most cases the top up is the equivalent of a new passport. The government needs to understand the contentious issue of documentation and its links to the indignity our fellow compatriots face when found with invalid documents or even being undocumented. The stigma associated with this is such that those without documents are automatically perceived as not law abiding or worse as criminals.”

Mkwananzi said it was important for the government to adopt modern ways of renewing passports.

“We have even offered to advise on technology from electronic fingerprint capture and electronic form submissions which would cut away much of the unnecessary need to control booking numbers forced by the limits of covid-19 regulations,” he said.

“The government can also manage a mass renewal since all power is at its disposal to do this. We need to have our house in order to ease the negotiation and renewal of work permits and the government must be agile.”

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