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The Great Passport Backlog — Business as Usual Is Not the Solution

Sudden demand for identity documents is pushing supply chains to the limit. Issuers must plan, prepare and adapt.

Covid-19 may still be with us, but the world is moving on. Where travel was once banned, many countries are now welcoming international visitors once again. However, the return of large-scale business and leisure travel has placed unprecedented strain on the supply of identity documents.

Across the world, government departments responsible for the provision of passports, driver’s licenses and ID cards are battling to meet demand. Backlogs are common. Wait times have grown. Impacts are significant:

  • The Australian Passport Office reports that processing times for new passports have ballooned from six to twelve weeks, as staff shortages limit the agency’s ability to review applications
  • New research indicates that delays in processing UK passports could cost the travel industry more than £1.1 billion in lost business, as the UK Passport Office output falls to 200,000 units per month from a peak of 900,000 in 2019
  • A sudden spike in applications has doubled passport processing times in Germany, with travellers who postponed renewals during the pandemic now overloading the system

Unfortunately, these examples may be just the beginning. According to IATA (The International Air Transport Association), total passenger numbers will grow to 3.4 billion in 2022, compared to 2.3 billion in 2021. While still lower than pre-pandemic volumes, a 50% increase in predicted air passenger numbers will place added strain on governments, and meeting the high demand for identity documents will take more than simply doing business as usual. Getting the world moving will require agility. Issuers must embrace the following new solutions to ensure their citizens receive the documents they need.

Analyze present data to reveal future needs.

Closer analysis of passive data is now essential in the fight to eliminate supply logjams. Information such as the number of expired passports can provide a strong indication of future need. If citizens have held back from renewing in 2021 due to travel restrictions, data modeling may reveal how this will change as the world is reopening — and indicate what extra resources should be readied to meet a spike in orders. Seasonal trends, vaccine protocols, immigration rules and a host of other data points can act as warning bells. Government agencies that ignore these embedded signals of pent-up demand will only struggle to fulfill their obligations as international travel grows.

Get ahead of supply chain problems.

There are many dependencies when it comes to ensuring a good supply of blank identity documents (i.e., finished documents with print and security features, awaiting personalized data). However, global supply chain problems are widespread, and the document manufacturing industry is not immune. The production of blank documents is a sophisticated business, involving many components and processes. Scarcity of some elements is already causing issues. Electronic documents that contain security controller chips from suppliers such as Infineon and NXP, are particularly vulnerable, with shortages expected into 2023. Long-range preparations with suppliers and the advance purchase of sufficient blank documents to meet demand are now strategic necessities and will remain so while supply chain problems continue to hamper production.

Citizen interaction is only as good as your systems, tools and measures.

Building trusted relationships forms the backbone of a modern, inclusive and technologically advanced society. Since 2020, the volume of public bulletins issued by governments has mushroomed, as changing travel rules and managing vaccine programs required constant messaging. This has brought the relationship between government and its citizens into closer proximity — a beneficial result worth maintaining and expanding.

Because they work at the person-to-person level, document issuing agencies are well placed to develop this relationship — if they can adapt their methods to provide the solutions citizens need:

  • Modify systems to provide better customer satisfaction. For example, consider the journey a citizen must go through to apply for a new identity document. Are there better or more efficient ways to get from A to B?
  • What tools are available to assist application preparation? Can your citizens access helpful video tutorials, accurate FAQs or resources to support image production, data verification, counter-signatories and other mandatory requirements for processing?
  • Post-Covid, remote interaction is the preferred option by many citizens. What measures can be employed to support this need? The clear choice is to move many processes online, but other possibilities, such as self-service kiosks that can be located outside agency offices and that may be operated outside normal hours, should also be considered. 

Adapt and improve to beat the Great Passport Backlog.

Changing customer behaviors have combined with manpower and supply chain shortages to create the Great Passport Backlog. To prevent the significant issues this is already causing from growing into a much larger crisis, government departments must quickly adapt to find new solutions that will develop and improve as the backlog evolves.

Discover more about this topic and learn how HID Global can support your identity document needs now: HID Global ID Card Solutions