At least 6 weeks’ wait for new passports, with more than 7,000 applications every day

Singaporeans who apply for a new passport will now have to wait for at least six weeks, according to the latest update from the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA).

In response to queries from The Straits Times, ICA said on the night of May 11 that the number of passport applications has increased to more than 7,000 a day, compared with 2,000 daily before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The highest number of passport applications it received in a single day recently was 14,000.

ICA said: “Since the easing of travel measures, there has been overwhelming demand for passports.

“It could take even longer if there is a greater surge in the number of applications or there are issues with the application, such as [if] the photograph submitted does not meet the requirements.”

Many people who submitted their passport applications from mid-March to April have been heading down to the ICA Building in Lavender since May 9, leading to snaking queues.

In April, the estimated waiting time for a new passport was at least a month.

When The Straits Times visited the ICA Building on May 10 afternoon, there was a queue of about 25 people outside at about 3 p.m. Those interviewed upon leaving said the line in the building was about 300 people long.

A retired insurance manager, 65, who wanted to be known only as Lee, left disappointed, as she was told her passport was still being printed even though she had submitted her passport application on April 11. She had planned to drive to her home in Johor Bahru on April 5 but had misplaced her passport.

On May 6, she waited for six hours at ICA only to be told her passport photo was rejected. She submitted a new photo online on May 7.

“I have to go to JB as soon as possible. My neighbors told me my landed home there suffered water damage and the roof caved in.”

But Kumar, 33, who goes by one name, got his passport on May 10 after showing proof of travel. The surveyor had submitted his passport application on April 1.

“I decided to walk in and ask them to expedite my passport, as I’m flying to Nepal for work on May 25,” he said.

There was a queue when he arrived at 7: 30 a.m., and he collected his passport around 4 p.m.

Others who made appointments and were at ICA on May 10 said they had applied for new passports in mid- to end-March, but there were no available collection slots until May.

Teacher He Chang Jing, 38, said he received an email on April 8 informing him that his passport was ready for collection, after applying on March 20.

“I was able to book an appointment in May, but I collected it within 30 minutes,” he said.

Sebastian Goh, a manager who is waiting for his passport to be renewed before his family flies to Bangkok on May 27, added: “The delay cannot be helped. There are 1 million passports expiring and everyone has their urgent reasons — whether it is leisure, work, or family — to travel out of Singapore.”

The surge in passport renewals comes as travel demand continues to rise.

On May 9, The Straits Times reported that airlines have raised their fares by between 20% and 80%, fueled by pent-up demand and school holidays that start on May 28.

In late March, ICA had advised Singaporeans who have plans to travel in the next few months and need to renew their passports to do so early via its website.

The application fee is $70.

When ready, applicants can make an appointment to collect their passports at any of the 27 designated post offices, or at the ICA Building.

ICA noted that there are still many appointment slots available at the post offices for passport collection.

On May 10, some people who turned up at the ICA Building at 4:30 p.m. or later were turned away as they did not have a prior appointment.

Among them was Delvin Lim, 27, who submitted his application in early April.

“I called ICA many times. Someone finally answered [on May 10] and said I could come down,” said Lim, who runs an online business.

He had bought bus tickets to Kuala Lumpur for May 12, where he will visit his ancestor’s tomb with his family.

“It is frustrating, as it’s cutting so close,” he added.

ICA said it understands that many Singaporeans are eager to start travelling again, especially during the coming June school holidays.

It added: “We are doing our best to handle the high demand and our officers are working longer hours during this period.”

More passport counters have been made available on other floors in the ICA Building.

ICA said: “We have also set up additional queue areas and conducted triaging to direct members of [the] public to the right location. They are advised to follow the signage placed on site and instructions given by officers.”

Michael Chiam, a senior tourism lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said that the longer waiting time could be due to a snowball effect, as more Singaporeans see others renewing their passports.

He said: “They jump onto the bandwagon to do the same. With the further relaxation of border controls, this could have escalated the momentum.”

Aaron Wong, 34, who runs travel website The MileLion, added that the scrapping of the previous Vaccinated Travel Lane arrangement and the impending start of the school holidays has likely played a part in spurring travel demand.

Chiam advised travelers to buy tickets only when they have a valid passport.

He said: “Those willing to take the risk should at least purchase airline tickets that allow the flexibility of a change in dates.”

ICA said Singaporeans need not renew their passports now if they are in Singapore and do not have plans to travel for the next six months.

“The Singapore passport is not a mandatory identity document, and there is no penalty for not renewing passports which have expired.”

It added: “For Singaporeans who need to travel urgently, they are required to produce supporting documents in person at ICA Building for assessment on a case-by-case basis.”