Everything You Need To Know About UK Passport Application
By Bob McKeegan-Brown, Passport Examiner
Bob has written this as a voluntary service to the Union Jack Newspaper. We are grateful for his knowledge on this subject.
AS SOMEONE who works in the North America Passport Production Centre in the British Embassy in Washington, I all too often see the anguish that is caused when essential travel is missed as a result of not having a valid passport. Too many times we get “urgent” requests from applicants with expired passports who have family members ill or wish to attend funerals in the UK. Our target times for processing applications are 10 working days for renewals and 20 working days for first-time and name changes. We are not able to operate a quicker service so the first and most important rule is, Keep your passport valid and ensure you renew it six months before it expires; you will be credited with time left on your old passport up to a maximum of nine months. Our service does compare favourably to the four-week advertised processing time for applications made through the Identity and Passport Service in the UK. As a passport is now required for all travel outside the Continental United States it makes sense to keep your passport in-date; it is a false economy to wait until something happens before attempting to renew it. In cases of genuine emergency where a travel document is needed within a 10-day time frame you should contact your nearest British Consulate for details on the emergency travel document service. For locations see http://www.ips.gov.uk/cps/files/ips/live/assets/documents/photos.pdf
Our web-site http://ukinusa.fco.gov.uk/en/ is in the process of being revamped but even so it contains the information and all the forms you require for submission of your application. Further information is available from our call-centre, which is operated by ABTRAN, a commercial company based in Ireland. Calls to ABTRAN are $2.60 per minute, so ensure you have gleaned as much information as possible from the web-site before calling them. Unfortunately we do not take calls in the Passport Office, as our small staff are busy issuing passports.
Throughout the USA there are a number of passport companies who offer to process your application for a fee. They appear to offer no more than the Passport Office does at no cost.
A UK Passport is considered to be one of the most respected and secure forms of identification available and as a result the criteria for receiving one are stringent. Passport applications are rejected if they do not meet the criteria; the three most common reasons for rejection are:
a. Photographs are not of the required standard. The current biometric passport contains a scanned image of both your photograph and your signature, therefore it is important that your photograph meets the standards laid down by the Identity and Passport Services (IPS) in the UK. The standards are at http://www.ips.gov.uk/passport/downloads/photos.pdf and the following is a synopsis of the information available on their site.
We need two colour photos. The photo must have been taken within the last month; be taken against a light grey or cream background; be 45 millimetres (mm) high x 35mm wide with the chin to top of head size between 29 and 34mm (do not trim your photographs to meet this condition); be free from shadows; be taken with your eyes open and clearly visible (with no sunglasses or tinted glasses, and no hair across your eyes); be free from reflection or glare on your glasses, and the frames must not cover your eyes (we recommend that you remove your glasses); free from “redeye”; of you facing forward, looking straight at the camera with a neutral expression, your mouth must be closed (no grinning, smiling, frowning, raised eyebrows or teeth visible); be in sharp focus and clear; have a strong definition between face and background; not be too dark or too light, and be printed professionally. Photographs printed at home are not likely to be of an acceptable quality.
b. Payment. We only accept payment by credit card (Visa or M/C) or money order. A credit card payment form is available on our website. Personal cheques are not accepted. The cost of a passport changes as the exchange rate between the US$ and the £ changes; the up-to-date prices are on our web-site.
c. Signature. Applicants must sign inside the signature box on the form; we know it is small but the scanner cannot physically capture parts of the signature outside the box. Practice before signing.
Children born in the USA are US citizens by right but if one of their parents is a British Citizen they are, in general, entitled to hold dual nationality. Applications for these first-time passports require supporting documents and our website has flowcharts showing what documents are required. The main stumbling block in this area is that British Nationality law requires that all United States birth certificates be issued within three months of the date of birth of the child. This is due to the fact that adoptive parents in the USA can ask for a birth certificate to be issued showing them as the biological parents of the adopted child. Since we are dealing with a question of nationality through descent we need to be sure that no adoption has taken place. If the birth certificate(s) supplied do not meet this requirement we require additional documentation to establish descent. This can be hospital records, medical bills, baptismal records, insurance bills or even the hospital card with baby footprints giving mother’s name etc.
Be aware that British nationality can only be passed on to one generation born abroad. Therefore British children born abroad cannot pass on their nationality to their children, they can however register their children at a British Consulate before they are one year old.
We still receive long expired and old blue passports for renewal, as the records of these passports being issued have been destroyed we are obliged to treat them in a similar fashion to first-time applications. As a minimum your application should be accompanied by your long-form birth certificate (this shows your parents details) and two types of current photo ID (copy of photo page of US passport, alien resident card or driving licence). I have seen some Internet forums that ask why we request copies of US Passports when issuing UK Passports; this is as an additional level of security when proof of identification is required; a US Federal ID is considered to be of a high standard.
Passport services are provided in the UK by the IPS whilst services outside the UK are provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). The FCO operate on a cost neutral basis and therefore the price you pay for your passport is based on the cost of providing the service.
LOCATE. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office offer assistance to British Nationals in distress overseas. We have introduced a new service called LOCATE which tells us where you are in the world so our embassy, consulate and crisis staff can provide better assistance in an emergency such as a tsunami, hurricane, or terrorist attack. Anyone living or planning travel abroad can register on-line at https://www.locate.fco.gov.uk/locateportal/.