Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services says it is ready to print the first electronic passports (e-passports) by January 14 2020 despite concerns from some quarters over the way the department implements reforms.
Chief Immigration Officer Masauko Medi said in an interview on the sidelines of a sports festival the department organised for its staff in Salima on Sunday that all is set for the exercise to roll out.
He said: “We had hoped to start by December 30 2019 but we had logistical issues.”
Medi said the new system is more secure and applicants will no longer need to travel to their respective districts of origin to have the district commissioner authenticate their home of origin as that requirement will be covered by the national identity card.
In an interview on Monday, Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) executive director John Kapito faulted the department for its frequent reforms that “are costly for the people”.
But Medi said the department will allow time for the transition.
“Those with valid passports will be allowed to use them, although they can apply for the e-passport, and the two will be working together until the old one expires or the cutoff date is reached,” he said.
The department announced in August 2019 that it would start replacing machine readable passports currently in use with e-passports. The e-passports are expected to cost $100 (about K75 000).
Immigration Department spokesperson Joseph Chauwa said the e-passport is aimed at meeting International Civil Aviation Organisation security requirements which seek to enhance security.
He said an e-passport is the same as a traditional one with the addition of a small integrated circuit (or chip) embedded in one of the covers or pages.
“The e-passport’s application, issuance procedure and appearance is the same as current passports, with the difference being that the e-passports will have chips that will store the holder’s biodata which includes the name, photograph, fingerprints, dates of passport issuance or expiry,” said Chauwa.
He said the chip also has security features linked to the National Registration Bureau and Criminal Investigations Department systems to prevent counterfeiting. Meanwhile, the Immigration Department has announced that it will temporarily suspend new passport applications between today and January 13 as part of the upgrade of the passport issuance system project from Machine Readable to e-passport. The services are expected to resume on January 14.