Australia international border closure: Passport renewals plummet, but reminders still sent

Running her own travel business, Himanshi Munshaw Luhar of Beacon Travel in Melbourne has always needed a valid passport.

Until last year that is, when the federal government banned international travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When her passport was due for renewal mid-last year, Ms Munshaw Luhar let it expire for the first time. She's one of hundreds of thousands of Australians who have let their passports lapse due to the border closure.

But the Australian Passport Office is still encouraging people to spend the $301 it costs to renew, sending out text messages and email reminders.

"It's really bizarre," says Ms Munshaw Luhar, who received a text message last Tuesday from the Passport Office, followed by an email, despite her passport expiring more than seven months ago.

"I thought 'this can't be right, this is some kind of scam'."

But the Passport Office confirmed that the messages were legitimate, confirming that text messages and emails are being sent to Australians whose passports are about to expire or have already expired. 

"Be travel ready. Make sure your passport is current", the reminders read. 

The number of Australians renewing or applying for passports has plummeted since international borders closed. In 2019, the Passport Office issued 2,208,767. In 2020, this dropped to just 882,622, a decline of 60 per cent.

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With a standard 10-year passport costing $301, the border closure has cost the Passport Office hundreds of millions in lost revenue.

Despite Australians being unable to use passports for overseas travel (though they can still be useful as a form of formal identification), there are no plans to reduce or refund fees due to the international border closure, the Passport Office confirmed.

According to the office, the fees are levied as application fees and the pandemic has not reduced the cost of processing applications.

Australian passports are among the world's most expensive, with 2018 figures finding only Syria had a more expensive passport at $500, but that has since been lowered to $181. The price of Australia passports increases each year in line with inflation, most recently by $3 on January 1, 2021.

Other expensive countries are Turkey ($230) and Switzerland ($205), both significantly cheaper than Australia's.

The only advantage to applying for your passport right now? Processing times are shorter, according to the Passport Office.

But Ms Munshaw Luhar won't be forking out for a renewal any time soon.

"What's the point? We can't travel," Ms Munshaw Luhar said. "My family is not going to be going anywhere until 2022, so why would we spend the money to renew?"

See also: What you need to know about the new 'OK to travel' pass airlines are adopting

See also: The world's most powerful passports named

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