What you need to know:
- The government has launched e-passport centres in six countries abroad, in its initial attempt to serve Kenyans in the diaspora.
- Kenyans living in the west coast of the US say it is costly for them to travel to Washington DC to complete the process of applying for the new generation passport..
A Kenyan is petitioning the government to set up an e-passport application centre in California, US to save a section of Kenyans living in the United States the cost of travelling to Washington DC for immigration services.
Paddy Mwembu, who lives in California, wrote a petition to the Office of the President saying nearly half of the Kenyans living in the US are on the west coast and that this justifies the need for a passport application centre on that side.
“Considering the distance and the cost of travel to Washington DC for processing of e-passport biometrics only, [it] fails to make economic sense. The distance to Washington DC is extreme and the total cost is prohibitive,” he said in the petition that has so far gathered 1,000 signatures from the diaspora community.
“As an alternative, e-passport biometrics processing can be performed at the consulate in Los Angeles. The office is fully functional, appropriately staffed and has the capability to handle e-passport processing,” he said referring to the Kenyan Consulate in Los Angeles.
The consulate offers several services to Kenyans including processing of birth certificates and identity cards. But they have to travel to Washington DC, some 4, 300 kilometres from Los Angeles, to apply for the new generation passport.
Mr Alex Muteshi, the Director-General of the Immigration Department told the Nation that the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed down expansion of passport centres.
"Los Angeles remains a priority in our programme to open more passport submission stations," Mr Muteshi said on Friday.
"We, however, have been held back a bit in this programme by Covid-19, though it remains on course."
When the government launched the e-passport in August 2017, it initially gave a deadline of September 2019 for everyone to ditch the old generation document.
But pressure from the public forced the government to extend the deadline to March 2021. In February, the Immigration Department said about 1.8 million Kenyans, mostly in the diaspora, had not replaced their documents.
The department said every Kenyan should obtain the new document “at the earliest possible opportunity” before the deadline. The department urged the use of more centres set up in Washington DC, Berlin, Paris, the United Arab Emirates, London and Pretoria.
But, a section of the diaspora community said the passport centres are very far from where they are.
The centre in Washington DC serves Kenyans in the US and Mexico.
The petition by the Kenyan in California argues that besides the distance and the fact that applicants have to miss work to apply for the passport, it is also costly.
For example, a Kenyan living in Los Angeles will need at least $1,300 for travelling to and fro. They will need a return air ticket costing about $500, three days of accommodation worth about $300, $150 for food and rent a car for three days at $90. This is besides the passport application fee of $140.
“This means that a family of four will be spending approximately $5,200 on the e-passport. Incidentally, this estimate does not include lost income since most people are only paid if they go to work,” the petition said.