6 Aug 2008

A passport experience

One of my neighbours is an English lad who married a Trinidadian girl. Recently he called the Trinidad and Tobago Embassy in London (new home of John Jeremie but at the time, the person in charge was Glenda Morean) to renew his wife's passport.

He related a horror story of dealing with what I can only assume to be a block-headed member of staff. Typical Trinbagonian attitude of someone who is placed in a position of authority and thinks it means they have power.

One of the things I observed about my neighbour is that he expects British standards of behaviour and performance in all things. I concur my experience in obtaining my British passport was astounding - to me.

In submitting my application, I received a letter in the mail within 7 days (of mailing my documents) saying I had to attend an interview, the purpose of which was to determine my identity since this would be my first British passport. The letter further clarified that I would be asked questions pertaining to my identity only, questions that basically only I would know.

I was asked to call a phone number to make an appointment for this interview. I called the same day I received the letter, and got a choice of times for the next day! Okay, I thought I may have to travel to London for this meeting so I chose a later time, in the evening, at 4:00 PM.

Imagine my reaction then when I was told that the office was about 10 minutes away from my home. Yes sir, the Home Office actually set up regional offices in many major cities.

At the time of my interview I entered the building, pressed the buzzer and a security guard asked me my purpose. I responded I had an interview upon which he asked me to remove my hat, stating that they would prefer that the CCTV cameras have an unimpeded view of my face. I complied, after all, I have nothing to hide.

I was asked to present my letter to reception. Believe it or not, I didn't even have to take any form of ID with me, only the letter I received in the mail to confirm my time of appointment. Then I was asked to take a seat.

At about 1 minute past 4:00 PM I was called, my butt barely having time to warm the seat I had chosen.

The lady who interviewed me read from a script that my purpose was only to determine identity, and that all my documents were otherwise in order. Part of the script also said that if everything was in order I would receive my passport within 4 working days! Hang on a bit here. 4 days? I am in Birmingham, how the devil are they going to get my paperwork from Birmingham to London, and print a passport, and mail it out to reach me in 4 days?

Anyway, I was asked questions pertaining to place of birth, parents, birthdays etc; really and truly - only stuff I would know.

5 minutes after, the lady confirmed all was in order and I left. All my answers were recorded on a computer by the way by a series of clicks confirming my answers. I even told the security chap on my way out that they must be bored daily, since I saw only 1 other person aside from myself. He assured me that the office attended to over 150 persons daily and they even expected a rise in that number.

2 days later I had my passport, ironically issued the same day I had my interview! Yes, my passport was issued after 4:00 PM on the day of my interview.

Now I read the horror stories of Trinidadians and Tobagonians on home soil who have problems with renewing or obtaining passports.

Today I have to call the Embassy in London myself to ask about exchanging my old Trini passport for the new machine readable one. I'll let you know how that turns out, compared with my British experience.