Nepal to start issuing e-passports from todayExperts hope this will stop passport forgery and diplomatic passport misuse.
The Department of Passports is issuing biometric passports starting Wednesday, in a significant development in Nepal’s passport regime.
Satya Mohan Joshi, the 102-year-old historian, will receive the country’s first e-passport from Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka at a function to be organised at the department’s new building in Tripureshwar. Earlier, passports were issued from the department’s old office at Narayanhiti.
After cancellation of three back to back global tender notices last year by the previous KP Oli government, the department is finally ready to issue e-passports that will ultimately replace the present machine readable passports (MRP). The new passports are printed by French firm IDEMIA.
Nepal departed from decades-old handwritten passports to machine-readable passports in 2010 and 11 years down the line, Nepal as per the guidelines of the International Civil Aviation Organization is going to issue the second generation e-passports and officials said that this gives a competitive edge to the country’s profile.
According to the recent Henley Passport Index, Nepali passports are one of the weakest passports in the world, ranked 110th position alongside Palestine.
“With the issuance of the new passports, definitely Nepal’s status will leapfrog,” Dornath Aryal, director general of the Department of Passports, said, adding, “We are going to issue one of the best passports in Asia in terms of security, design and other features.”
Though the ranking should not come as a surprise to many Nepalis who have made international travel, it is still a cause for concern, especially since Nepal is no longer in the midst of a conflict, has not been involved in any large-scale criminal or terrorist incident, is a democracy, and is politically stable.
“It is not due to quality of the passports that Nepal has been ranked lower,” one joint secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said, adding, “It is due to the country’s poor economic status, weak immigration system, conflict, and Nepalis overstaying their visas abroad, among other things.”
Technically the new passport is going to be one of the best, reliable, secure and hassle free for travelers, but passport rankings have more to do with politics, the joint secretary said.
According to the department, the new biometric passports will come in new shades. The cover of ordinary passports, which is currently green, will be chocolate-brown. Diplomatic passports will have a crimson-red cover, official passports navy-blue, and peacekeepers’ passports will come in tiger-orange colour. Travel documents will be black, temporary passports chocolate-brown and seaman's record book slate-brown. The front page of all passport booklets is specified to bear a hot foil stamp of the national coat-of-arms.
Former joint secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Arjun Kant Mainali said that with the adoption of the new passports as per the global standard, the ranking of the Nepali passports will go up.
“Technology also plays a very important role so definitely it will boost the rankings of our passports’ credibility. It will be hassle free too and secure. It will be widely recognized too. In terms of other technological aspects, this will make travel easier,” said Mainali.
The new passport is also expected to stop misuse and theft of diplomatic passports.
“Since it provides protection against identity theft, hopefully this will stop theft of diplomatic passports also,” said Nischal Nath Pandey, Director of the Center for South Asian Studies.
The department is also planning to link the passport data to the National Identity Card.
What is an e-passport?
An e-passport is also known as a digital or biometric passport. Due to security concerns, migration to e-passport from machine-readable passport started in 2005 and finally the first e-passport was issued in 2010. As of now, more than 120 countries have issued e-passports, said Director General Aryal.
An e-passport has an embedded electronic microprocessor chip. It contains biometric information of a person that authenticates the identity of the passport holder. It uses contactless smart card technology, including a microprocessor chip and antenna to power the chip as well as for communication.
It is embedded on either the front or back cover or the centre page of the passport. The passport holder’s information is printed on the data page of the passport and the chip also stores the information.
Public key infrastructure (PKI) authenticates the data stored electronically in the passport chip making it expensive and difficult to forge when all security features are implemented correctly. Many countries are moving towards issuing biometric passports.