Will old passports be invalid from 24 November 2015?

The roundtable on Strengthening Integrated Passport Control in Tajikistan was held on 29 August 2012 in the premises of the OSCE Office in Tajikistan (OiT). It has involved the participation of relevant staff of the MFA Consular Department, the MIA Registration and Visa Department, the NCB Interpol of the MIA, the State Committee on National Security, the General Prosecutor’s Office, and the members of the Police Reform Steering Group. 

The project proposals on Strengthening Integrated Passport Control: “The OSCE-INTERPOL: Support to INTERPOL in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan” and “Enhancing Identity Management and Travel Documents Security in Tajikistan” were discussed at the roundtable. 

Opening the round table, the Deputy Head of the OSCE OiT, Mr. Hans Peter Larsen has noted that “the OSCE Office in Tajikistan, functioning within its mandate, attaches a significant importance to issues of protection, simplification and harmonization of travel documents issuance system in Tajikistan.” That is why the OSCE has chaired a tripartite activity of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and International Organization for Migration (IOM) on enhancing identification data management and on securing travel documents in Tajikistan.” According to Mr. Larsen, the projects will be implemented within the Memorandum of Understanding on Police Reform between the OSCE and Tajikistan, which is a pillar of the OSCE Police Reform Program in Tajikistan. 

Christopher Hornek, Assistant Programme Officer of the OSCE Action against Terrorism Unit (ATU), while presenting the projects noted that the “projects were developed as per request of the Government of Tajikistan, which were preceded by the studies conducted by the OSCE experts from 4 to 9 October 2010 at 10 Border Control Points (BCP) and in the NCB Interpol of Tajikistan. These BCPs were nominated by the Government of Tajikistan in September 2009. The development of projects was also preceded by the technical evaluation procedures for the handling and issuance of travel documents and identity documents, confirming identity in Tajikistan, implemented by the OSCE, ICAO, and IOM in June-July of 2010.” 

According the Mr. Hornek, the results of researches and preliminary needs assessment of the Republic of Tajikistan on strengthening integrated passport control had become the basis for drafting the project proposals “OSCE-Interpol: Support to Interpol in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan,” and “Enhancing Identity Management and Travel Documents Security in Tajikistan,” which were sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan in December of 2010. Mr. Hornek has outlined that the donors are available for the first project: the Government of Norway has agreed to allocate a special grant for its implementation, but due to absence of an official response from the Tajik side, the OSCE and Tajikistan have not started the process of project implementation. 

The same situation is with the second project. The technical assessment was carried out by the OSCE, ICAO and IOM specialists in June-July of 2010, its conclusions and suggestions on improvement of issuing travel documents were sent to Tajikistan in December 2010. However, the Tajik side did not take any efficient measures to coordinate the project documents and to conduct internal procedures for their implementation. 

During a lively discussion, participants of the roundtable have agreed on the recommendations, aimed to expedite the solution of issues related to the implementation of abovementioned projects, which will be sent to the Government of Tajikistan. 

Thus, let us try to sort out the official information and to explain the information of the press-release to our readers in more easy way, since the information, given in a current form is clear to only narrow circle of specialists. 

Tajikistan is a participating State of the OSCE, as well as of IOM and ICAO. Membership in these organizations imposes certain commitments on Tajikistan.

Hence, the ICAO has established a Standard in 2005 that regulates the requirements for identification of a person. According to the Standard, “the Agreeing States must include biometric data into their machine readable passports (MRP), visas and other official travel documents by using one or several optional technologies for data storing in addition to the machine readable zone, the technical requirements of which are indicated in the Doc 9303 “Machine Readable Travel Documents.” Meanwhile, “the Agreeing States start issuing machine readable passports only in line with technical requirements of the part 1 of document Doc9303 no later than 1 April 2010.” 

Tajikistan has partially fulfilled this requirement: since 1 April 2010 our country has begun issuing of so called biometric passports, which costs 100 USD, including the MFA service fees. But in the meantime, we are still issuing so-called “non-machine readable passports” – the old passports of 1998 that contradict the ICAO requirements. These passports are valid as in the past for 5 years. But the ICAO Standard requires citizens of all ICAO member states to have with them only machine readable passports after 24 November 2015 during their international flights. 

I.e. if a Tajik citizen gets a regular travel document on 5 September 2012, expiring on 5 September 2017, he/she will not be able to leave Tajikistan after 24 November 2015. 

The same way many other citizens of Tajikistan cannot go abroad. Travelling for labor migration is the only source of income for them to support their families. 

Validity of biometric passports - 10 years, and even though its apparent high cost, like for our citizens it would be better get just such a passport. Not to mention standing in line, the amount of two passports will cost still a considerable price for an average citizen. However, people do not rush to get biometric passports, most likely hoping at random: starting from 1 April 2010 about 27,000 biometric passports were issued countrywide, while annually over 600,000 citizens of Tajikistan depart to the Russian Federation. 

Certainly, an unawareness of population concerning the fact that starting from 24 November 2015 people might face serious obstacles while traveling abroad plays an important role as well. Our citizens sometimes are not aware of the fact that they cannot travel outside of Tajikistan after the deadline without a biometric passport. They either hope that the Government of Tajikistan will be able to reach an agreement with Russia in regards to the extension of validity duration of old type passports for 5-6 more years. 

The access to the centers for data collection in order to issue biometric passports also has a significant importance for solution of their issuance matters. There are overall 5 centers across the country: 2 in Dushanbe, 1 of each in Khujand, Kurgan-Tyube and Khorog. There also other circumstances, which in certain extent preclude the launch of a mass campaign on issuing biometric passports and, first of all, it is the high cost that was already mentioned above. 

Therefore, for the countries, which keep issuing non-machine readable passports due to lack of financial resources, the ICAO has developed an action plan called “Global Integration of Machine Readable Documents.” It involves a technical assistance in the implementation of ICAO requirements and in facilitation of the issuance system, the identification of resources in state-donors and international financial agencies, the projects management by ICAO Directorate of Technical Cooperation and quality control. 

Under the aegis of this action plan, the ICAO in cooperation with the OSCE and IOM have started the development of a long-term program on integration of machine readable travel documents in Tajikistan or simply of biometric passports. The specialists of three international organizations have visited to Tajikistan several times to study the technical and other needs of Tajikistan, and taking into account that the OSCE and the Government of Tajikistan have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Police Reform, it was decided to implement the project proposals within the framework of police reform in Tajikistan. 

Why was such decision made? 

The decision was made, because in both project documents, the main work load for their implementation lays on the Ministry of Internal Affairs. 

First of all, for instance, the project “Enhancing of Identity Management System and Security of Travel Documents in Tajikistan” envisages creation of 12 more Centers for data collection to issue biometric passports. Secondly, the project anticipates conducting a huge awareness raising campaign amongst the citizens of Tajikistan on necessity of using biometric passports. But most importantly, the OSCE jointly with the ICAO suggest integrating ID cards, which are digital identity cards with biometric data, instead of internal passports in Tajikistan. Herein, the OSCE makes commitments to seek for country-donors to implement such an ambitious project with total budget of approximately €2.4 million according to preliminary budget estimate. 

This includes both procurement of equipment for all passport issuing centers, which will issue new ID cards and creation of a unified accounting system for issuance of travel documents, which will combine the databases of relevant units on marital status registration of the Ministry of Justice, and passport systems of the MIA and the MFA Consular Department. The system will be integrated into the registration system of foreign citizens, who enter Tajikistan, and will be installed in all BCPs of Tajikistan. 

The project proposals were developed by the OSCE, ICAO, and IOM specialists back in 2010, but due to reluctance of our officials, they are still remaining in the stage of agreement. 

We wish the recommendations of the roundtable to be heard, so we could start the implementation of these crucial projects for our country in the nearest future. 

Abdullo Kurbonov, National Expert