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Why the waiting times for new passports have passed this month

New Zealanders are being warned to apply for new passports at least two months before they need them.

Current advice from the Department of Home Affairs (DIA) is that people should wait eight weeks, plus delivery, before a standard passport is issued.

The longer wait times are attributed to upgrades to the passport system and increased seasonal demand.

Nearly 38,000 Kiwis are currently waiting for their essential travel documents.

The government target for passport processing is 10 days, but the current waiting time guideline is well over a month longer than that.

More than 39,000 passports were completed in February; this almost halved in March due to the start of system upgrades, which prevented the creation of new applications.

DIA said the “major system upgrade” was the biggest change to the passport system in more than a decade and would last until mid-May.

Delays could continue as the new system needed time to “break in,” the report said.

“In light of this, we are revising forecasts of likely demand and production in the coming months.”

The department’s passport team has been plagued by problems since the pandemic, when it reduced its workforce and then faced a surge in applications as borders opened – which also led to waiting time targets being exceeded.

Waiting times have improved compared to 2023, with the average processing time for standard passport applications being 17 working days.

Between January and March 2024, the average processing time for standard passport applications was 10 working days.

But in April 2024, the average turnaround time for standard requests increased to 26 working days.

The emergency service lasted two days.

However, DIA said not all applications were the same and some could go through automatic checks, allowing them to be processed more quickly.

It said the average processing time is currently less than six weeks, but the upgrades would lead to disruptions where passports could not be processed. Therefore, it advised applicants to allow eight weeks plus delivery.

The approach was “cautious” and “conservative”, DIA said, but admitted it may not have adequately warned applicants about the waiting times.

Initially it said it would take six weeks, plus delivery. After questions from RNZ, this advice was changed to eight weeks plus delivery.

“We expect average processing times to increase over the next month.”

DIA said May is typically a big month for job applications.

‘Timeframes are a guideline, not a guarantee’

“These seasonal fluctuations, together with changes to our system, have prompted us to err on the side of caution and advise people to allow six weeks plus delivery, although in many cases we expect to be able to deliver their passports much sooner.”

Those who signed up before the six-week waiting period likely received their new documents within the advertised timeframe at the time of signup, but not all.

“One thing to note is that the time frames we provide are a guideline and not a guarantee,” DIA said.

“Reducing passport processing times remains one of the department’s top priorities, and we are continually looking for ways to achieve this, even as we work to adapt to our upgraded system.

“We take action every day to assess demand, assign staff to tasks and improve productivity.

“Examples of how we do this include analyzing our data, identifying the bottlenecks and ensuring we have the right amount of staff in the right areas.”

The technical upgrades were intended to improve the registration process for groups and families and make the website and processes simpler.

The department said it was working hard to reduce wait times, but encouraged people to allow plenty of time.

By Charlotte Cook of rnz.co.nz