Local jobs to go as Britain closes passport operation

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 December, 2011, 12:00am


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Up to 24 staff working at the British consulate in Hong Kong will be made redundant when all passport operations move back to Britain in a revamp of how passports are handled.

They are among 166 people working in the seven regional passport processing centres around the world, who are likely to lose their jobs when the centres close.

No date for the redundancies has been announced, but Britain's Identity & Passport Service is aiming to have all applications handled in Britain by 2014.

Jo McPhail, head of the overseas passport management unit at Britain's Foreign Office, said: 'The centres will close and most will lose their jobs. Almost all are locally employed staff.'

During a visit to Hong Kong last week, she said people were fully aware they would face the sack. 'We have been honest with them,' McPhail said, adding people would be 'treated fairly' and helped with future employment.

Those affected are involved in checking and verifying applications for new and replacement passports and sending documents to Britain.

Since August, new British passports have been issued in Britain and sent to Hong Kong by courier, although applications can still be made in person at the consulate. Because passports are cancelled as soon as the new application is made, and new passports can take up to four weeks to arrive, the change - highlighted by the Sunday Morning Post - is leaving British citizens marooned in Hong Kong.

Britons accused their government of failing to tell them about the changes. One reader said: 'Unfortunately, this all reflects badly on the UK civil service and the total lack of thought about implementing new procedures. One would have thought that a 10-minute consultation with the consular authorities in Hong Kong would have made them aware of the various scenarios facing UK citizens' here and on the mainland.

The British government wants all applications for new passports to be made direct to Britain.

The original plan was to have applications made over the internet, but McPhail said there were technological problems with such an approach, including how people would send photos for the new passport and what they were to do with their existing document. And the eventual shift to online applications raised fears of a collapse in the passports operation.

'The British government's track record on the computerisation of services has sometimes been a complete shambles, ranging from problems with a new computerised payroll system for soldiers to the computerisation of health service and child support records,' said one British businessman. 'My fear is that the same thing will happen with passports.'

Shifting passport operations to Britain was intended to save the GBP8 million (HK$97 million) annual cost of a passport processing and issuing network at 94 embassies and consultates worldwide. McPhail was unable to say how much had been saved by consolidating passport operations into seven regional centres including Hong Kong, which handles passports for north and Southeast Asia.