Uganda's passport shortage crisis deepens

The spokesperson of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Mr Simon Mundeyi,  places passports on a printer at the their headquarters in Kampala on on May 9, 2022. PHOTO/ISAAC KASAMANI

What you need to know:

  • The crisis has seen a black market in which paying or highly-connected seekers are issued the travel document ahead of those following the procedure.

Uganda is facing a worsening passport crisis, forcing citizens to cancel or postpone planned trips out of the country for business, study, job opportunities and medical emergencies, resulting in incalculable yet avoidable losses.
Among the hundreds trapped against their will are individuals recruited by labour export companies as prospective domestic workers in the Middle East under the government’s labour externalisation programme.


Some Ugandans aiming to travel for study or graduation abroad have remained stuck because the government phased out the old machine-readable passports, but is now handicapped to meet the demand for the East Africa e-passports.
A highly-placed government source briefed on the matter said the basis of the unfolding trouble is a stockout of passport booklets as a result of a provision in the agreement signed with the supplier.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said the booklet stock is expected to be renewed in August, which is three months away, and the Directorate of Immigrations and Citizenship is rationing the limited numbers for emergencies and high-profile persons.
The directorate has admitted the scale of the problem, and early this week took the unusual step of conducting journalists on a tour, including to the passport printery, so that they see for themselves the scarcity of booklets.
The crisis, applicants who asked not to be named over fears they could be targeted for passport denial, said had given birth to a black market in which paying or highly-connected seekers are issued the travel document ahead of individuals following the prescribed procedure.

To acquire the new e-passport, applicants have to apply online, pay the fees --- Shs250,000 and Shs500,000 for ordinary and express processing, respectively --- in the eligible banks and return to complete the application with payment details upon which the system auto-generates a receipt.
Payment of the prescribed passport charge also unlocks access for an applicant to a form for booking appointments to appear in-person for biometric registration and interviews.
The available booking slots are now a month or two away, prompting those desperate for the documents to cut corners and use either their connection, or cash, to get ahead of many duly booked applicants.

The result: unsightly long queues outside Internal Affairs ministry headquarters in Kampala, a crowded passport waiting area, a black market where overwhelmed staff and security personnel can help for something, and grossly fewer passport prints than applications.
Combined, there is little to no difference for ordinary and express passport processing because the wait is nearly the same for both, with some applicants getting ordinary passports before those who pay higher for express.
Internal Affairs ministry officials blame Covid-induced backlog and Ugandans’ preference to comply at the last minute, among other factors, for the overwhelming demand for the new passports.

The government in January, this year, announced April 4 as a revised deadline to phase out the old passports.
A litany of issues has emerged since then. Daily Monitor presented these issues to Brig Johnson Namanya Abaho, the commissioner of Citizenship and Passport Control and Internal Affairs spokesperson Simon Peter Mundeyi.  Both had not responded to our repeated calls and messages by press time.
Officials have variously blamed the surge in demand to the post-Covid-19 ease of travel restrictions, the transition to the e-passports and the unceasing demand for migrant workers to the Middle East.

Ugandans, thousands of them migrant labourers, have paid for the express service, which means an applicant should get their travel document in hours or a few days after fulfilling the requirements. However, they now have to endure a longer wait. Labour export, however, is not a new thing and it is not clear why the immigration directorate did not plan for them or has not created a separate arrangement outside the system used by the general public.
Uganda has more than 150 labour export companies.  According to information from the immigration directorate an average of 500 applicants from 138 of the said companies applied for express passports. This, the directorate says, frustrated their plans to deliver on the express passport applications.

EAC timeline ignored
A council meeting of the East African Community (EAC) member states extended the deadline of phasing out of the old generation passports to November this year, which authorities in Uganda have ignored.
The decision to extend was taken during the 41st Ordinary Meeting of the EAC Council of Ministers held in Arusha, Tanzania, from November 22 to 29, 2021.
EAC partner states like Kenya which had set a deadline of December 2021 complied and set a new deadline in line with that of the EAC ministers.

Booklets shortage
The topmost officials at the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration are senior army officers deployed there, according to President Museveni who is the commander-in-chief, due to efficiency of the UPDF.
The ministry is led by Kahinda Otafiire, a retired major general, deputised by Gen David Muhoozi, the immediate past chief of defence forces, and Lt Gen Joseph Musanyufu, the current permanent secretary.
Maj Gen Apollo Gowa Kasiita is the director of the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control, while Brig Johnson Namanya is the commissioner for Citizenship and Passport Control, and Col Geoffrey Kambere is the commissioner for Immigration Control.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs headquarters where already struggling to accommodate the thousands of applicants who turned up for their passports once President Museveni started easing the travel restrictions imposed to stem the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
The passport picking centre was moved from the Ministry of Internal Affairs headquarters to Kyambogo where Face Technologies, that until recently issued Uganda’s driving licences, used to be located.  

In the country’s digital migration efforts, Uganda has struggled to come up with a clear and consistent plan for its security printing needs.  After close to three years of wrangling, the government finally signed the security printing deal with a German company, Veridos Identity Solutions Group, in June 2016.
The deal was a joint venture with the Uganda Printing and Publishing Corporation (UPPC). The project, however, struggled with the different groups in government opposed to printing Uganda’s currency notes locally.
It was eventually settled that Veridos establish a factory in the country to print e-passports, driving permits, national IDs and other security documents.  To-date, it is not clear whether these efforts have been achieved. While the Uganda Driver Licensing System, under the Transport and Works ministry is operating efficiently.

Passport Requirements

Renewal/replacement process

Step 1: Go to the Passport Portal
Step 2: Accept the terms and conditions displayed in the Disclaimer
Step 3: Answer simple security questions
Step 4: Complete the passport application form 
Step 5: Print Passport Application Payment Advice Form.
Step 6: Make payment for the selected type of passport using the selected payment method in the selected bank.
Step 7: Schedule appointment for a date of your convenience using the scheduled appointment link on the home page.
Step 8: Print Passport Application Appointment Form.
Step 9: Report to the selected passport centre with the passport appointment form with the appropriate application requirements displayed on the website, for enrollment.

Requirements for renewal 
1. National ID 
2. Present your old passport.
3. Recommendation letter from a Ugandan national of good understanding in society who knows your citizenship. The recommender should provide a copy of his/her National ID In the event you are making any changes, change of profession, names due to marital status, you will be required to attach the relevant legal proof of changes.
4. If you have a profession or making changes in your profession, ensure that you attach a photocopy of your academic transcript or certificate 
5. The fee is Shs250,000, bank charges exclusive for replacement of your passport. Express fee is an extra Shs 150,000, bank charges exclusive.

Requirements for change of names or other particulars
1. Present written explanation for change of names addressed to the passport control officer.
2. Attach Supportive documents i.e. deed poll, marriage, certificate, etc.
3. Attach a copy of the National ID with the name clearly appearing 4. The fee is Shs250,000, bank charges exclusive for replacement of your passport. Express fee is an extra Shs150,000, bank charges exclusive.

Cashing in on passport crisis
   The transition from the machine-readable passport to the e-passport that requires biometric registration is, according to highly-placed source, to weed out fraudulently-issued Uganda travel documents and comply with East Africa Community-wide shift. Its issuance is tagged to the national ID. The government is charging every applicant afresh, including holders of still otherwise functioning passports. The machine-readable passports, like the new e-passports, are each valid for 10 years, making holders who have remaining years on the travel document pay the State twice for the same purpose.  Applicants’ struggles are a cash cow for the government. 

For instance, the Directorate of Immigrations and Citizenship says it on average each day handles 1,000 to 1,200 passport applications. Using the minimum Shs250,000 for ordinary passport processing, despite a passport booklet costing Shs100,000, it means the directorate daily rakes in Shs250m-300m. That translates to Shs1.25b-Shs1.5b a week, Shs5b to Shs6b monthly or an annual collection of Shs60-Shs72b, which makes the accompanying inefficiency in passport processing both suspicious and ironical.    A comparison of the regional costs shows Uganda’s 48-page passport is overpriced. For in Kenya, a 50-page ordinary passport costs an equivalent Shs187,698, Tanzania charges Shs232,350 for its 48-page ordinary passport, while in Rwanda, applicants pay an equivalent of Shs352785 for a 66-page ordinary passport.