The hassles of getting machine-readable passports (MRPs) at foreign missions of Bangladesh are coming to an end as the passport department has announced e-passport enrolment and issuance services at all embassies.
On 5 September, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan inaugurated e-passport services at the Bangladesh embassy in Berlin.
From now on, all Bangladeshi citizens in Germany can apply for e-passports in Berlin.
In the upcoming months, Bangladeshis will be able to obtain their electronic passports at 75 other foreign missions.
Security Services Division Secretary Md Mokabbir Hossain will inaugurate e-passport operations at the Bangladesh mission offices in New York, California, and Washington this month.
In another phase, Bangladesh missions in Romania and Malaysia will come under the e-passport project next month.
Later this year, the Department of Immigration and Passports is planning to start e-passport operations at the foreign missions in the Middle East countries.
The e-passport has been designed to be forgery-proof.
Bangladeshi people living abroad have been facing trouble applying for MRPs for the last couple of months.
The MRP server was down for a few weeks in several countries.
German company Veridos is responsible for the entire roll-out of the e-passport infrastructure.
This starts with the pre-configuration and shipping of the enrolment and issuance infrastructure to all embassies worldwide.
Veridos then sets up the infrastructure and trains the embassy staff.
Major General Mohammad Ayub Chowdhury, director general of the passport department, said they had signed an agreement with Veridos in July 2019 to establish e-passport facilities.
The e-passport operations, as per the contract, were supposed to start at 72 local and regional passport offices in the country and 80 foreign missions within 18 months, he said.
He also said they had already installed equipment and started operations at all 96 regional offices in 64 districts.
"But we could not roll out operations at any foreign mission till 5 September due to the coronavirus pandemic. We have finally done that," he said.
The passport department director general also said the MRP issuance infrastructure is around 11 years old and most of the equipment has lost validity as there are limitations for MRP system upgradation.
Jack Farley, assistant director of the e-passport project, told The Business Standard e-passport documents are produced and personalised in Dhaka and then shipped to embassies.
"Due to the pandemic, air travel was limited and setting up infrastructure in foreign missions was also disrupted. But infrastructure has now been set up in a few embassies," he added.
Applicants can now view status updates on the e-passport online portal and check if their passports are ready for pick-up.
According to the passport department, Bangladeshi citizens can apply for their electronic passports through the online portal.
For large embassies with a high volume of e-passport requests, the online portal features appointment scheduling for the enrolment of biometric data, such as fingerprints, facial images, and iris scans.
Applicants can thus avoid long waiting times.
In the future, there will also be the option to pay passport fees online via the portal.
MRP application problems in foreign missions
Due to upgradation and server problems, MRP issuance at foreign missions has been facing disruptions since last July.
Because of the three crore subscriber quota limitation of the AFIS software, Bangladeshi citizens abroad could not apply for MRPs in their respective countries.
But passport department sources said they had signed a virtual agreement with Malaysia's IRIS Corporation to solve the AFIS software upgradation problem.
The passport department processed 5,000 MRP applications on 12 August, 6,000 on 13 August, and 21,060 on 15 and 16 August among around 150,000 in the AFIS software.
Another source at the passport department told The Business Standard the AFIS software was not down at all, but the process was disrupted.
But the disruption was normal and may happen any time before fully establishing the e-passport infrastructure.