Kathmandu, September 3

The government said today it has no plan to seek more time from the International Civil Aviation Organisation to replace hand-written passports   with machine readable ones.

The ICAO has set a deadline of November 24 for converting all ordinary passports to machine readable passports (MRPs) by November 24.

Once the deadline expires, it would not be possible for Nepali citizens carrying ordinary passports to travel abroad.

The Department of Passport and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated they were capable of replacing all ordinary passports, if applications for the same are made.

Nevertheless, it is not likely for them to convert all previously issued ordinary passports into machine-readable ones within such a short span of time.

“We are committed to and capable of replacing all remaining passports within the remaining two-and-a-half months,” said Director General of the DoP, Lok Bahadur Thapa. “But, we know thousands of passports might still remain to be converted even after the November 24 deadline.”

According to him, Nepal wouldn’t seek further extension of the deadline with the ICAO mainly for two reasons. First, the world body itself wouldn’t take Nepal’s request positively. Second, even if it did so, it can’t dictate other countries to accept Nepal’s request. “Our effort is to replace as much passports as possible within the deadline given by the ICAO,” said Tara Prasad Pokhrel, spokesperson for MoFA.

Since the introduction of MRP in December 2010, over 1.6 million ordinary passports have been converted to machine readable passports. Nevertheless, it is estimated that some 300,000 to 400,000 people are still carrying handwritten passports and most of them are living abroad, mainly in the Gulf countries and Malaysia.

“Technically, we are capable of replacing all remaining passports within the deadline,” said a MoFA officer. “The problem is all ordinary passport holders would not apply for machine readable passports on time.”

MoFA spokesperson Pokhrel said those Nepali citizens living abroad, who have not been able to acquire machine-readable passports due to various reasons can return home even after November 24 by acquiring travel documents from Nepali embassies. Although, it wouldn’t be easy for Nepali citizens carrying hand-written passports to acquire a travel documents.

Foreign missions have already stopped issuing visa on ordinary Nepali passports. China used to issue visa on handwritten passports for members of official delegation to China until recently. Now, it has also started asking them to produce an MRP for visa, officials said.

Meanwhile, a two-day symposium is being held in Montreal, Canada— the headquarters of ICAO— next month to discuss the issue. Nepal will also participate in the symposium and is likely to share it would issue travel documents to ensure the return of those Nepali citizens, who missed the deadline due to various reasons, according to a MoFA.