U.K. Passport Procedure Changes Hit Pockets - and Nerves - of British-Israelis

The recent change in procedures for issuing a new British passport is flustering U.K. citizens in Israel, who from now on will have to work through Paris and incur up to hundreds of shekels in added costs to get their travel documents. They will also be required to wait longer for the document, and mail original documents abroad at their own expense.

"It doesn't feel comfortable sending valuable documents in the mail," said Dan Kosky, 32, a former Londoner who lives in Tel Aviv. "It's just inconvenient."

The switch to Paris-issued passports is part of a global transition undertaken by the British Foreign Office to centralize passport production in order to make it more economical and more secure, the British embassy said. The change was planned before the Dubai incident in which allegedly Israeli agents used forged British passports to assassinate a senior Hamas militant.

Brenda Katten, former chairperson of the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association, said she expected applicants "to be disappointed that they have to wait much longer." Katten, who has not yet applied to renew her passport under the new regulations, said that her current passport was produced within hours by the embassy.

The embassy announced the switch would be effective from "3 May 2010" but at least three families arriving this past Monday learned they were too late. From now on, applicants have to pay 148 euros - over NIS 720 - per passport along with 40 euros (approximately NIS 200 ) for return postal fees (up to four passports ). Requirements include submitting original documents such as birth certificates, and those who want to send them safely will have to pay an additional NIS 40 for registered mail or NIS 100 by courier for each package under 250 grams.

This means that a family of five could spend up to NIS 1,500 on postage fees alone in order to renew their passports if they have to send their passports in for renewal separately.

Michael Dickson from Jerusalem says he came to the consulate last month to make the deadline for himself and his four children, but one of the applications was rejected because of a technicality; the passport picture for his five-month old baby was unusable. He will now have to reapply to Paris, and pay NIS 300 in postage fees.

"I have recently found out that I am one of 18,000 people whose postal votes in the U.K. election were lost in the mail," he said. "Sending documents like birth and marriage certificates does not feel comfortable at all because I have no confidence in the mail."

According to British Embassy spokesperson Karen Kaufman, the embassy processed around 600 passports in the two weeks before the deadline, which constituted "a significant increase" in the number of passport applications it usually handles. "This demonstrates to us that members of the public were notified of the changes in good time," she said.

Ben Green, who immigrated to Israel in 2004, will need a British passport for his 8-month old daughter this summer to go to Australia if he is to avoid applying for a visa for her. "It's not a major problem, but it is going to be more complicated," the Tel Aviv resident said.

Robert and Libbie Goldstein, a young British couple from Jerusalem, renewed their own passports just before the regulations change. They also got a new passport for their seven-month-old daughter, Shani.

"I think the switch is a shame because people need local service," Libbie Goldstein said. "We had to come to Tel Aviv three times to sort out our application and it was difficult to get explanations over the phone," she said. "If this back-and-forth happens through the mail it will mean a major delay, hassle and serious postage fees."

We'll always have Paris

Kaufman said yesterday that British citizens who have submitted their passport requests may still call the consular section in Tel Aviv, but that if the bureau in Paris has questions it could set up a direct line of communication with the applicant. In that case, the applicant may end up having to call Paris, paying international rates.

Martin Stern from Jerusalem said he advised friends who travel often to London to have their passports issued there, through the Foreign Office's two-day express service. "The whole service became more expensive and less convenient," Stern said. "Now doing it yourself in London has become cheaper and safer."