Friday, October 5, 2012

Canadian Passport Blues Revisited

Canada has recently initiated the “Simplified Renewal Application Process” for a new Canadian passport. Yes, really. Does this mean that we are no longer left with the dreadful anticipation of wading through a complex bureaucratic nightmare at the Canadian consulate in Tel Aviv - a nightmare that I described in graphic detail in my blog post from May 2011 - “The Canadian Passport Blues”?

Well, I decided to try it out, and I’m smiling.

But let’s begin at the beginning.

Shortly after my former passport blog came out, the Canadian Consulate in Tel Aviv decided to make things even harder for us humble, hard working Canadian expat folk. They informed us that we could no longer pay in cash, but had to do so through postal money order or certified cheque.

“Do you think this has something to do with your blog?” a faithful blog follower asked me.
“No, I’m sure it is just a coincidence.”

But then, as if seeking a way to rub more salt into the wound,  they offered the “Simplified Renewal Application Process” - a simple way of obtaining a new passport. Gone was the need for a guarantor signature and documents in English to attest to your existence. You needed  now only to supply the contact details of two people (could even be friends or your next door neighbour) who could confirm your existence. As long as your passport was still valid, or hadn’t expired more than a year before submitting your application, all that you needed to do was to fill out the two pages in the form and submit it together with your passport, two photos and the paid fee.

But... and here is where it became painful, this was not offered to us expats living in the Middle East.

“Are you really sure they haven’t read your blog?”
I simply shrugged. I was no longer sure of anything. Luckily most Canadian expats living in Israel did not blame this on me. Or so I believed.

And I had my own personal dilemma. The expiration date of my Canadian passport was creeping up on me and I had to weigh my options. Did I really want to go through the whole process again? What would happen if I didn’t have a valid Canadian passport? And, for the first time, my indecision led me to stand by and watch as my Canadian passport expired in March 2012.

“They’re watching you, you know.”
“Who?” I asked.
“Those embassy people. They are waiting for you to take out a new passport. You are serving as a bad example. More people may be encouraged to do the same.”
“You’re crazy,” I said. Although I had heard from other Canadian expats who told me that their passport had expired and they had not yet set out for Raanana to get their passport photos taken.
“Do you know,” one expat told me, who had actually braved the long trip again from the Negev to Raanana to get her photo taken, “that they rejected my application because the guarantor’s signature was not dated later than the date of my own signature on the form? That never happened before. What is happening?”

“The question now is who will blink first,” my faithful follower said.
“What?” I asked, the words breaking into my reverie. “What are you talking about?”
“I know what I know.”

So March slipped into April, and April into May, and then June, July, August... It was a standoff. It appeared that no one was going to budge. And then I saw it, in black and white on the Canadian Embassy site:
“As of September 3, 2012, Canadians living in the Middle East may apply for a new Canadian passport through the simplified renewal application process.”

Was this a peace offering? Or a simple chain of events? I could feel them watching me, wondering if I would be seduced into accepting their offer. And time was on their side, for in order to take advantage of their offer, I had to do so before my passport passed the one year expiration date. And  then I found a way to rationalize it all. I would be your test case, and report back to this blog. I really did not expect to get a new passport so easily. I thought that I would enter into the interview with the consulate official and when I presented the filled out form, I would be told something like: “What simplified renewal application process?” or “You are not personally eligible - didn’t you read the fine print?”

So, armed only with my two photos, expired passport, filled out form, and paid postal money order, I marched into the consulate offices. Sitting across from the official, separated by a wall of glass, I passed everything through the compartment to the official. I didn’t even have time to nervously fidget. Within two minutes, she had quickly scanned everything and asked: “Do you want us to mail the passport to you or will you come and get it?” And that was that.

“Is that a hint of praise I hear in your voice?” my loyal blog follower asked.
“I believe that credit should be given where credit is due.
“But you still had to drive all the way to Raanana to get your passport photo taken.”
“And that is a two and a half hour trip.”
“Actually, now you can do it in two hours, with the new extension to the highway.”
“Still a long way to go.”
“Yes. Zion, the owner of Photo Zion in Raanana,  told me that there are only three computers in Israel with the system he has for generating the passport photo.”
“Where are the other two?”
“I don’t know. It appears to be a well kept secret.”
“How did you find out about Zion?”
“My lips are sealed.”
“I see. Well, all said, would you suggest to expats, whose passports have expired, to rush out and get a new passport through this new process?”
“Well, I suppose so. Unless they want to wait for the new e-passport format, which will be valid for ten years instead of five.”
“When is that coming out?”
“At first there were rumours that it would come out in 2012. But the latest word on the street and on the Canadian Embassy website is that it will be in Spring, 2013.”
“Did you ask at the consulate?”
“Yes. The woman official simply shrugged and said that she had no idea. But these things do take time. Don’t forget, we are Canadians."