More than a million passport applications could be bogged down in a bottleneck if HM Passport Office staff go on strike for five weeks from early April.
In a “significant escalation” of a dispute over jobs, wages and working conditions, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union says more than 1,000 members will walk out of all seven offices in England, Wales and Scotland between April 3 and May 5. Passport workers in Belfast could later join the strike.
The union says the strike will have a “significant impact” on the supply of passports as summer approaches.
What does this mean for vacationers? These are the most important questions and answers.
Was that a surprise?
Incomplete. Industrial action broke out in a number of HM passport offices on Thursday 16 March, with walkouts on routine work and urgent appointments. The PCS union said production of passports has been halted at the Newport office, while interviews for urgent passports in Glasgow and Durham have been cancelled.
In the quest for a better wage deal, the union is trying to make its public sector strikes as effective and high-profile as possible – and with more people planning to travel abroad than at any time since Covid, holidaymakers are obvious targets.
What impact will the strike have?
Since the increase in passport applications a year ago, which led to sometimes very long delays and no public holidays, the issuance process has worked quite smoothly.
HM Passport Office still insists travelers give 10 weeks for passport applications, even for simple renewals. But according to the National Audit Office last fall, the average processing time for passports was 12 days for simple applications and 29 days for more complex cases. However, demand is rising steadily as the Easter holidays approach, and the summer is expected to be the busiest since 2019.
At peak times – including April – HM Passport Office can receive 250,000 applications per week. I expect more than a million passport applications during the strike. Some of these will be urgent cases, but the Fast Track option may be closed to allow the available effort to be used to process ‘normal’ applications.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We are disappointed with the union’s decision to strike.
“We are working to manage the impact of strikes while ensuring we can continue to provide essential services to the public, with comprehensive contingency plans in place.
“There are currently no plans to change our guidance that says it takes up to 10 weeks to get a passport.”
What should travelers do?
The panic over long waits seems to have already triggered a wave of unnecessary requests and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This also happened after Brexit, when the UK government released inaccurate information on passport expiration rules for travelers to the European Union.
The actual tests for UK passport holders to the EU and wider Schengen area – including Iceland, Norway and Switzerland – are as follows:
For example, someone who is planning an Easter holiday in Spain and has a passport issued on May 1st, 2013 that expires on February 1st, 2024 should have no problem.
For many other countries, including the US and Australia, your passport is valid until the expiration date. However, some nations require a validity of six months.
But I was told that passports expire after 10 years and that a six month validity is required everywhere?
The needless concern created by sources making nonsensical claims about the validity of passports is alarming. Sections of the travel industry and media are making two false claims about the validity of British passports.
First, worldwide, date of issue matters, and passports expire after 10 years. This is nonsense. The date of issue is unrelated except for adult passports for the EU/Schengen area – the rule here is that you cannot enter the European Union with a passport that was issued more than 10 years ago.
The second untruth is that popular travel destinations like the US and Australia require passports to be valid for six months.
If you search the Internet for “Auseigntes Amt” and the name of the destination country, you will be shown the exact entry requirements for your travel destination.
Last year MPs came to the rescue due to serious delays in passport processing. Will that happen this time?
No. During the troubles a year ago, the HM Passport Office operated a “hotline” and had a dedicated desk for MPs’ passport applications for voters with urgent travel needs. But the concerns were not related to industrial action, and I do not expect a similar response this time.
Can I get travel insurance if I miss a trip because I don’t get a passport on time?
No, you are expected to have all your documents in order. It’s possible that some travel companies will become lenient if the passport shortage gets really serious.
What will this do for confidence in the travel industry?
After the mass cancellations and airport disasters a year ago, even the threat of a passport strike will further undermine trust in foreign countries.