The approaching 24 November 2015 deadline is increasingly discussed at MRTD working meetings and conferences. It is also being mentioned by the media. With November 2015 only two years away, the time will fly by quickly.
The professional traveller identification community, however, is not always entirely clear what meeting the deadline involves. Official references written in technical legalese are not easy to interpret and understand. Questions abound. What is the November 2015 deadline all about? Why is complying with Standard 3.10.1 of Annex 9 so important? What happens if a Member State does not comply with the deadline? Are there any good practices that can be implemented to make meeting the deadline easier? Is any assistance or technical advice available from ICAO?
This page is primarily for national passport issuing authorities because they play a central role in meeting the deadline. In a broader sense, it informs the global traveller identification community who need to know what the deadline requires and how to meet it. This page provides a practical and simple overview of the main issues related to the deadline, and a few sources of useful reference.
The 24 November 2015 deadline: what is it all about?
The 24 November 2015 deadline comes from from Standard 3.10.1 in Annex 9 — Facilitation. ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) are contained in Annexes to the Chicago Convention, the main international law instrument regulating civil aviation matters globally. Annex 9 — Facilitation contains SARPs related to border controls and inspection formalities, including MRTDs.
The deadline refers to non-machine readable passports (non-MRPs). Annex 9 — Facilitation Standard 3.10.1 reads as follows: ‘[f]or passports issued after 24 November 2005 and which are not machine readable, Contracting States shall ensure the expiration date falls before 24 November 2015’. This effectively means that all non-machine readable passports should be out of circulation by 24 November 2015.
Standard 3.10.1 is best understood in conjunction with Standard 3.10, which stipulated the 1 April 2010 deadline for the issuance of ICAO-compliant machine readable passports (MRPs). As Standard 3.10 has been generally implemented universally, the Standard 3.10.1 deadline for removing non-MRPs from circulation by 24 November 2015 presents the next important universal deadline for MRTD compliance.
Defining what makes a MRP ICAO-compliant presents some technical complexity that is beyond the scope of this webpage. However, in order to ensure that no non-MRPs are left in circulation after 24 November 2015, it is important to understand the meaning of a ‘not machine readable’ passport. Some obvious instances of ‘not machine readable’ include a passport that is handwritten, it has no Machine Readable Zone (MRZ) or includes another family member in addition to the holder of the passport. Some other cases can be more difficult to spot, such as errors in MRZ and the biodata page, which require a closer look by an expert assessor. But in short, in order to be ‘ICAO-compliant’ and ‘machine readable,’ a passport has to fully comply with the specifications of Document 9303, Part 1,Volume 1. If it does not, the passport should be out of circulation by 24 November 2015.
An important but often forgotten point. The requirement that non-MRPs expire by 24 November 2015 applies to all types of passports: Ordinary, Diplomatic and Service. However, it does not apply to temporary travel documents or passports of limited validity in cases of emergency, which usually have a short validity period and are issued by consulates to distressed nationals so that they could return to their home country.
ICAO Standards are legally binding for all ICAO Member States. However, there are instances when a Member State may be unwilling or unable to comply with a specific Standard, either for a specific period of time or indefinitely. Departures from international Standards are regulated by Article 38 of the Chicago Convention. Generally, when a State is unable to comply with a specific Standard, it has an obligation to ‘give notice’ to the Council of ICAO by ‘filing a difference’ under Article 38. A difference is filed by the State using a prescribed form that is available from the ICAO Secretariat.
Does Standard 3.10.1 call for obligatory biometric passports (ePassports)?
The answer is straightforward: no, it does not! 24 November 2015 is not a deadline for ePassports. No ICAO Standard for the introduction of ePassports exists so far. Some States and industry partners appear to mistakenly believe that the 2015 date is a deadline for the introduction of ePassports. It is a relatively widespread misconception that needs to be dispelled.
A Standard on obligatory ePassports may become a requirement some day in the future—if ICAO Member States agree to it. But nothing is foreseen in the immediate future. Even if political will emerged universally to elevate ePassports to an obligatory ICAO Standard, the technicalities of multilateral policy making would take quite a few years until such a new Standard is adopted.
Compliance with the 24 November 2015 deadline: current state of play and need for further outreach
The likelihood of universal compliance with the deadline is not very high so far. Anecdotal evidence from the ICBWG and the traveller identification industry suggests a ‘considerable’ number of non-MRPs in circulation that will expire after 24 November 2015. Recognizing the need for reliable figures, the ICAO Secretariat issued a State Letter EC6/3-12/70 to all ICAO Member States to raise awareness and ensure States have adequate time to comply with the Standard.
The Letter, dated 31 December 2012, provided a brief background of the issue, urged governments to invite their citizens holding non-MRPs to apply for MRPs, and included a brief Questionnaire to gather information on worldwide application of Standard 3.10.1.
The responses to the Questionnaire, while moderately reassuring, are still too incomplete to provide a full picture. By January 2014, about one-third of all ICAO Member States had replied with only five indicating they were unable to comply with Standard 3.10.1 and meet the 24 November 2015 deadline. It is quite probable, however, that the States that did not reply to the Questionnaire on time face far greater challenges in complying with the deadline. In any case, more replies are needed to have a systematic picture concerning compliance with Standard 3.10.1.
The State Letter and Questionnaire are available online in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. All Member States are encouraged to reply at their earliest convenience.
Potential consequences of non-compliance with Standard 3.10.1
Consequences of non-compliance is not an easy topic to address. At this stage, ICAO has no official position or information on the possible consequences of not meeting the deadline. Therefore, any such debate is purely speculative. However, given the importance of potential consequences, the Implementation and Capacity Building Working Group (ICBWG) has been exploring possible scenarios in order to provide early warning and encourage measures that would assist States with meeting the deadline.
While international law has no centralized enforcement authority, States have a number of remedies they can resort to in addressing non-compliance issues. One such measure is self-help, that is, a State may apply corrective or preventive measures against another State that does not comply with the provisions of international law. According to the working group, other Member States may apply bilateral sanctions after 24 November 2015, for instance, refusing admittance to holders of non-MRPs or making visa processing more onerous and costly because of associated risks. While no official information has been submitted to ICAO so far, anecdotal evidence suggests that a few major States are considering such an approach and their border control officials have warned some visitors holding non-MRPs to renew their passports before 24 November 2015.
If such sanctions were introduced and applied, they would bring costs and inconvenience to holders of non-MRPs after the deadline. Consequences might include financial losses, increased costs, delays, refused entries, cancelled trips and disappointment.
Given the uncertainty and potential high costs to the holders, a good strategy for mitigating the risk is to make the public aware of the 24 November 2015 deadline and encourage the timely renewal of non-MRPs.
Recommended practical steps
Reasons for non-compliance differ and every Member State faces a different set of challenges in meeting the November 2015 deadline. While no one solution fits all, a few guiding principles emerged in discussions by the MRTD programme and ICBWG that may provide some food for thought to Passport Offices in achieving compliance with Standard 3.10.1. They include:
Government officials are welcome to contact the ICAO Secretariat for inquiries and further advice concerning the 24 November 2015 deadline:
Technical Officer, Facilitation, ICAO
For inquiries related to filing a difference to Standard 3.10.1; responses to the Questionnaire enclosed with the State Letter EC6/3-12/70.