Israelis to Get Free Temporary Passports as Biometric Program Falters

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File photo: Passengers queue at biometric passport stations at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport.
File photo: Passengers queue at biometric passport stations at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport.Credit: Haaretz

Israelis traveling abroad within the next month who have not yet received their biometric passports will be issued a free, temporary passport in the meantime, the Knesset Finance Committee decided this week.

Travelers who applied to receive a biometric passport and are planning to fly abroad by October 20 will be eligible to receive the temporary passport. They can request to receive one while applying for a biometric passport at the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority. The offer is valid through October 3.

The move follows a raft of complaints about lines at the population registry, and about long delays in receiving passports since Israel’s transition to biometric passports began in early July.

Biometric passports cost 265 shekels ($74) for citizens over 18; a temporary, one-year passport costs 405 shekels.

The plan to transition to biometric passports at the beginning of the travel season has been lambasted; some critics say the changeover should have happened after the Jewish holidays in September and October, when fewer Israelis leave the country.

Still, the Interior Ministry said the change would happen at the beginning of the summer.

Interior Ministry staff have been taking pains to handle the crush at their offices and at Ben-Gurion Airport, where travelers can apply for new passports at the last minute. The ministry received a special budget from the Finance Ministry to hire new people to deal with the pressure, open new offices and pay current employees overtime.

The head of the population authority, Shlomo Mor-Yosef, admitted at a Finance Committee meeting that letting people receive a free temporary passport was the best way to address the demand for new passports before the Jewish holidays.

“This stems from our inability to handle the onslaught of applications for biometric passports, so people have been paying twice — once for the regular passport and again for the temporary passport,” he said.

Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni said at the hearing: “I don’t love the biometric passport, but at least there’s no fine for those who don’t want their fingerprints saved in the biometric database. There’s a law and it’s now being implemented, but the government wasn’t prepared, and at peak travel season of all times. I don’t understand why it takes so much time to issue a biometric passport, and other types of preparation may be necessary.”

Amnon Shmueli, the acting head of the Population Authority at Ben-Gurion Airport, said part of the problem is that it takes 15 minutes to process someone applying for a biometric passport — three or four times as long as it takes for a regular passport.