In the light of the forthcoming move to online passport applications in Australia, we asked Auckland-based Rob Howse (Integrated Kiosk Soutions, a leading distributor of kiosk and passport hardware and software) how the photo channel has fared since New Zealand made the change to an online system for passport renewals:
The difference in NZ (wrote Rob) is that the public apply directly to the Department of Internal Affairs via the online website or post their application in. From what I understand in Australia, Australia Post accepts the paperwork directly, and staff there would probably do a visual check to see the photos were suitable.
It’s difficult to imagine any other company or organisation other than Australia Post with the density of nationwide distribution of sites to be able to handle passport applications for DFAT.
In New Zealand, website/online submission or passport photos is only available for adult passport renewals. Anyone under 16, or applying for a first time passport requires a printed version and written applications. The NZ passport office has an online photo checker, which checks the photo is suitable (Machine readable / e-passport) using the United Nation specialised agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards. (NOTE: This is worth checking out – it’s available for anyone to use. You upload the digital image file to the passport office website for instant assessment.)
In principle, a person can take a passport ‘selfie’ on their smartphone and upload it as part of their online application, however while this works in theory, the majority of smartphone users are not professional photographers, and their photos are not suitable.
The majority of digital renewal photographs are taken by traditional passport photo sites, (NZ Post, pharmacies, photo shops, etc). They usually use a ICAO-based Biometric software (such as ID Passport Express from Integrated Kiosk Solutions and IPS, or ID Station from Brands Australia) to produce a compliant digital file, which they sell to the customer at the same price as a printed passport. (in NZ this is usually NSD $20). The public have shown no resistance to the pricing of digital passport files, possibly due to the cost of studio photography out here.
The retailers we supply have noticed a general trend of digital/online passport sales increasing (not always at the detriment of printed passport sales). In the last three years most retailers report about a 20 percent increase in digital passports. One of our customers near the government buildings has as much as 98 percent of passport sales being digital, and has had at least a 200 percent increase in passport sales since offering in-store digital passports. The general trend here seems to be that rural areas have between 10 percent and 20 percent of passport sales being digital and cities around 40 percent.
Factors affecting digital passport sales are closely linked to:
· The age and sex of the person (very few women over 45 do online applications);
· The average income in the area, ( high digital passport sales are inevitably in wealthy and city areas);
· Standard of internet provided (rural homes can have poor or no internet at all)
Apparently, photo retailers in NZ offering passport photo services haven’t been adversely impacted by the changes over there. Is that your understanding?
Yes, in fact their skills have become more appreciated as the public learns that suitable passport photos are not as easy as they seem. Most sites sales have increased (providing they also sell digital).
Is most work in passport photos renewals?
As online passports are only available for ADULT renewals, yes, you’d need to contact the NZ DIA to ask them the ratio of printed vs online .
With initial passport applications, can people use passport pics from a photo retailer or do they have to visit an ‘authorised’ outlet?
They can use any photo they like, as long as the online photo checker accepts it. It may be that the government could be accused of unfair trading if they excluded competitors from selling passports photos and limiting photo sales to ‘checking service providers’.
Has NZ Post ‘moved in’ to offer passport photos?
The corporate-owned sites have, and some franchises, but they have not had much of an impact on the market – the staff have a hard time spending 10 minutes to get a passport done when the queue is flowing out the door.