It is quite a common sight to see a long queue in front of the immigration counters at international airports across Bangladesh.
Those visiting the airport to fly abroad must face a number of regular checking procedures, which usually takes 10-15 minutes. But if you have an electronic passport (e-passport), such procedures will be completed in just a matter of a few minutes.
With e-passports, travellers can even complete the immigration process without any scrutiny from the law enforcers at the airport. These passports feature some exciting new features, which were missing at domestic airports in the country.
The wait for e-passports has thus ended for Bangladeshi citizens.
After making the decision to implement an e-passport project in April 2016, the Department of Passport and Immigration (DPI) has finally launched e-passports in the country.
Additionally, Bangladesh has become the first country in South Asia to enter the e-passport era after the official opening of electronic passport services on Wednesday. The country is the 119th country in the world to introduce e-Passports.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the e-Passport services and automated border control management at a programme in the capital. At the ceremony, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan handed over an e-passport to the premier.
The development comes against a background of the DPI planning since July 2019 the launch of e-passport services.
What is e-passport?
Though it looks just like a manual or machine-readable passport, the new e-passport brings some cool and secure feature to its holders. These passports add a layer of security to traditional non-electronic passports by embedding an electronic chip in the passport booklet.
The first two pages also store the biographical information of the holder, including iris and biometric finger prints, as well as other digital security features.
According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), over 490 million e-Passports are in circulation across the world.
DPI Director General Maj Gen Shakil Ahmed told The Business Standard, "These security features, including iris and biometric finger prints are unique. This is why no one can replicate or bypass the security features of the electronic passport.
"The features will help us with the immigration process and border security management. Already, nine electronic gates have been set up at Dhaka's Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, which people can easily access using the e-passport."
He added that immigration and border security would be easier with this kind of facilities.
The DG of DPI also mentioned that the latest move will increase the acceptability of Bangladeshi passports across the world. The e-passport with high-end security features will also ease the immigration process globally.
How to get an e-passport?
Maj Gen Shakil Ahmed said that anyone can get an e-passport from three selected passport offices.
"All the proceedings will be conducted online. People can apply online without any hassle. An applicant just needs to fill up 87 types of information, and among them 43 are mandatory," he added.
E-passports are now initially being issued from three offices – Uttara, Jatrabari and Agargaon branches of the Department of Immigration and Passports in Dhaka.
"Gradually, e-passport services will be introduced in 69 passport offices across the country and some 75 Bangladesh missions in multiple phases. These services will be available in other parts of the country within this year," Shakil Ahmed added.
He further said, "Initially, the e-passport proceedings will be slow in a few cases. But after the mid-2020s, the operation will continue with 100% efficiency."
About the project
The e-Passport and automated border control management project is being implemented by the DPI and German company Veridos GmbH with assistance from the Bangladesh Army, under the Security Services Division of the Home Ministry.
The project, "Introduction of Bangladesh e-Passport and Automated Border Control Management," is being implemented at a cost of Tk4,569 crore.
The DPI and Germany Veridos signed an agreement on July 19, 2018 for issuance of electronic passports alongside machine-readable ones.
A total of 30 million e-Passports will be delivered in the next 10 years under the project.
With the issuance of the e-Passport, the whole process of immigration formalities will be completed online.