There is much confusion and rumor among Bangladeshis about the delay in implementing machine readable passports by the Bangladesh government.
The rumor revolvs around a deadline - that after April 1, 2010 every Bangladeshi has to posses a machine readable passport to be able to travel to other countries. We all know that Bangladesh government has failed to meet the target of issuing the machine readable passports by April 1, 2010 due to a lot of reasons. Actually we are hearing about this from 2006 but for bureaucracy and change of government the project did not materialize in due time.
However a quarter is using this to spread rumors that no Bangladeshi can travel abroad during April 2010. Salahuddin Shoaib Chowdhury's Blitz News weekly is one such example of yellow journalism which is misleading many Bangladeshis.
So what is the truth? What is the fuss about it? Actually the deadline was proposed by The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a major agency of the United Nations. It codifies the principles and techniques of international air navigation and fosters the planning and development of international air transport to ensure safe and orderly growth.
According to the ICAO, all member countries of the organization would have to issue Machine readable passports and Machine readable visas (no more stamps) by April 1, 2010.
However the Blitz weekly and many other rumor mongers missed this part of the deadline:
All traditional non-MRP passports must be withdrawn from circulation by 2015 - November 24, 2015 to be precise.
This is also applicable for many other countries such as Philippines.
And people forget the fact that ICAO does not dictate which travelers to bar. Actually its the individual countries who set the requirements of entry. For example USA tried to introduce mandatory machine readable passport requirement for visa waiver countries (travelers who do not require visas -not Bangladeshis) back in 2003 which was postponed several times to present days. However non-MRP holders from visa waiver countries can still enter USA with a prior visa. So actually it depends from country to country what the requirement is.
The good news is that Bangladesh is finally implementing the MRP project from next month. The problem with Bangladesh is that it needs to overhaul its existing infrastructures to enable issuing of machine readable passports and visas. According to news:
The government will set up 85 new passport offices and six visa cells at home and abroad for issuing Machine Readable Passports (MRPs) and Machine Readable Visas (MRVs) by April this year.
Of the proposed offices, 66 passport offices will set up at 66 Bangladesh missions in abroad, 19 in the district headquarters of the country and six visa cells will be established in the six divisional headquarters, sources in the home ministry said yesterday.
All the offices and the cells, which would be set up at home and abroad, will be controlled by the home ministry.
The start of the process can delay for a few more months it seems. There are 6.6 million passport holders of Bangladesh. Replacing all will take at least 3 years. However that will still be within the ICAO deadline of 2015. I think it will be wise for Bangladeshis to replace their existing passports with MRP ones as new requirements from countries may emerge and they will have to face queues etc. during travel if they do not switch. But I do not think that they will be barred to travel.
The sad part is that the next technology - Biometric e-passport with RFD chip is being implemented by many countries. Bangladesh is surely going to face another deadline within a few years to switch to e-passport. So one wonders whether Bangladesh could have tried to implement the e-passport instead of MRP.
Update: From The Daily Star (March 29, 2010):
* The fee for emergency machine-readable passport (MRP) has been fixed at Tk 6,000 while Tk 3,000 will be charged for a normal MRP
* The fees for the MRP to be issued in foreign missions of the country will be different. Fee for an emergency MRP is $200 while $100 for normal ones in abroad.
* The 84-page new passport will be valid for five years.
* The department of immigration and passport (DIP) has decided to issue MRP from its 10 regional offices. The rest are yet to be ready.
* People can collect the forms free of cost from the 10 offices. It will also be available in the Department of Immigration and Passport (DIP) website: www.dip.gov.bd
* The present manual passport can also be renewed in the country and the foreign missions till March 31, 2011
* Fee for an emergency hand-written passport has been fixed at Tk 1000 while the amount will be Tk 500 for emergency renewal or endorsement of a passport. For duplicate emergency (hand-written) passport the government will charge Tk 1000. In abroad, fee for an emergency manual passport is fixed at $30 while emergency renewal or endorsement of a passport will charge $15. Duplicate emergency (hand-written) passport will cost $30.
* Those who have applied for hand-written passport will have to apply again for MRP if they are not provided the manual passport before April 1, 2010.
Image: Courtesy Wikipedia.