Monday, 3 August 2020

Passports in the time of coronavirus

I'm both an Australian and UK citizen, which means I have two passports.

Really I'm Australian - during the first lockdown I even got teary once when the ABC played We are Australian over a sequence of lockdown images just before the six o'clock news on the News Channel. However I've two passports because I was born in Scotland and came to Australia later in life.

Despite being born here, J also has two passports as her parents were from the north of England and never became citizens. (actually her mother was born in Australia before there was such a thing as an Australian citizen, but grew up in England. To add to the colonial tangle, her grandmother was English, but her grandfather was Australian and fought both at Gallipoli and later on western front).

In the last twenty years or so we've never used our UK passports except on one occasion when we were travelling to England for a family event. Our Singapore Airlines flight was late leaving Melbourne, which meant we'd missed our connecting flight to London and then on to Manchester.

To their eternal credit, when we explained why we were travelling to Manchester, and why this time being late was a problem rather than an inconvenience, Singapore airlines rebooked us on Lufthansa so we arrived the day we should have, albeit very late in the evening.

When we got to immigration, there was a massive queue and one harried UK Border clerk dealing with a horde of people who'd arrived on a Pakistan Airways flight but no one using the automatic passport machines, which at that time didn't accept Australian passports.

Well we looked at the queue, looked at each other, and unanimously thought "F*** it, we'll go through on or UK passports", which we did.

Other than that the only reason we keep our UK passports is to identify ourselves to the Department of Work and Pensions, so we can claim the UK aged pension when we become eligible.

My UK passport was due for renewal this year, so, being a good little vegemite I applied to renew my passport in mid March.

What I didn't realise was, none of us did,  with incredibly bad timing, that this was a day or two before the Covid-19 crisis became the nightmare it is.

So off my documents went - sent via International Express, which pre-Covid would take four to five days. This time due to flight delays it took almost three weeks to get the UK.

In contrast, when J had renewed her UK passport last year and it had only taken three weeks from sending the renewal application to getting her new UK passport.

I was so confident that my renewal would be equally as speedy, I'd actually put a covering letter in with my renewal application warning the UK Passport office that I was going to South Africa at the end of April and advising them that if there was any significant delay I would not be at home to sign for the delivery.

In the even it didn't matter. Borders closed, and I never got to South Africa. I also didn't get my UK passport back until the first week of July.

We all understand that these are not normal times, and that delays will be inevitable. However, communication from the UK passport office was not the best. Randomly I would get a message saying the application was being processed, and the silence for a week or two. When they did finally send my passport they didn't send any tracking information so I had to trust it hadn't got stuck somewhere on the way back.

Eventually I got a cryptic text message from a DHL driver saying he had two envelopes at the which he would leave at the post office in town for me to pick up.

Well they didn't turn up until a day later, but they did turn up and I now have a boring blue UK passport...

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