I have just under a year before my British passport expires. In the great tradition of apartheid, it’s a British overseas national passport for those of us born in the colonies, and both in 1996 and 2006, I had to use a different form to British citizens. I presume Britain was worried about overseas British subjects flooding to their country if anything happened, and as we all know, they would much rather that Johnny Foreigner from the Continent head there to get work.
Naturally, they don’t make the renewal easy. Once upon a time, you got the form, filled it in, paid the fee, and went along to the British High Commission. It approached New Zealand levels of efficiency, which is very un-British, as it goes against the national tradition of strikes. However, I bumped into the new High Commissioner late last year (strangely, I never saw his predecessor in all the years she was here, so presently I still wonder whether she exists) and he advised me that these were all being done from the UK. It does beg the question of why we need High Commissions, just as I’m sure Gordon Brown was asking once why Britain needed all that gold, and earlier leaders why Britain needed a domestically owned car industry. You just never know what is round the corner.
But I digress.
I Tweeted the British High Commission’s account to ask about this, and they pointed me to www.gov.uk/browse/visas-immigration. It’s not terribly useful. Here was how our Twitter conversation unfolded:
I did try the form for regular British citizens, which is one thing a search gives you. I’ve been through it, and there’s nowhere in which you can tell them you’re a BNO. This might be good news, because it means the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has started treating us the same as everyone else. Except you just know that that’s too good to be true. And the silence from the High Commission is interesting. You can always count on the Foreign Office to make you feel second-class. By telling them you are BNO, it rules out that you have any blue blood from their lot, so they have nothing to fear if you are a pleb.
This is not atypical of the British High Commission: I had a query in 2001 on a fairly serious matter, and they ignored my correspondence. The Foreign Secretary then ignored it. The Shadow Foreign Secretary then ignored it. Thank goodness for Ms Doreen Welch of the Prime Minister’s office, who acknowledged it, to the point where I took her correspondence to Britain to show that even if the FCO were incapable, the PM accepted my viewpoint. (Who knew? Tony did good.) We return to the question of just why we need High Commissions if they actually serve no function for British subjects abroad. (The only High Commissioner who ever bothered responding was George Fergusson, because of our St Mark’s old boys’ connection, but in classic British fashion his people got the address wrong on the envelope and the correspondence took months to get from Thorndon to Kilbirnie.)
I enquired again, this time with the Passports’ Office. I have cited the wrong link below, but at least I admit it when I am wrong.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The British High Commission in New Zealand provided me the link to your new service at https://passportapplication.service.gov.uk, and it looks very easy to follow.
However, I am a British overseas national. I note your website has a separate PDF form for us, and a separate set of guidance notes. What your website does not detail is the process and where we send this PDF once completed.
Most websites seem to point to the above link.
Please can you enlighten me on the actual procedure? If it is the first link given, then I am happy to proceed through it and do it online. However, if the presence of the PDF on your website is any indication, then I suspect we have to jump through different hoops, and I would appreciate your guidance on that.
Here is the reply. This is in full. Salutations, you see, are no longer part of FCO correspondence. That makes it officially one step down from responses from Amazon.com.
You will need to apply using the online application service. Please see the advice here: https://www.gov.uk/overseas-passports.
HM Passport Office Webmaster
Thank you for your reply. So you are saying that there is no difference whether I am a British Overseas National or a British Citizen, and that I follow the one procedure at your link?
This also means I can ignore the downloadable PDF on your website for British Overseas Nationals: is this correct?
That’s the thing. There are two forms. One is the standard one, and the other is the BNO one, for which there are no instructions. No addresses are given on where to send this form. And when you ask them, no one will tell you a thing. Britain is sworn to silence when dealing with British subjects.
Now, you might think, why don’t I just follow the link given? Sure, but this is the UK. I am happy to follow it and pay the fee but if they cock up, I pay again. It’s not like New Zealand where you can explain this to someone and they do the logical, right thing. It’s not even like Hong Kong or Singapore, places blessed with a decent civil service when the sun still shone on the Empah, but where the functionaries actually function. This is why I want to be sure. And you would think this was a delightfully simple query, innit.
No one appears to have blogged about their experiences, hence this post. I even used my last-resort search engine Google to take a look: you know I got desperate when I allowed the NSA to know and to pass that on to the GCHQ.
If you’re a BNO who has been through this post-2013, please feel free to comment.
It’s in stark contrast to my urgent New Zealand passport renewal last year, which was done by the DIA in Wellington in four hours. That was not a typo.
I realize that with electronic media somewhat difficult for this department, I will give them a call during the working week. To make sure that I get an answer, I will adopt an American accent, because we all know the British government listens to those.
Failing that, one might have to fly there just to get this done.