At Passportinfo.com, our main focus is United States passports, but we also keep an eye on passport news from around the world! Today, we’ll look at some of the top passport-related news stories from India, France, Great Britain, and Switzerland.
India: You Can’t Have a Passport if You Don’t Have a Toilet
In rural India, many people do not have toilets in their home, and the national government has undertaken a major public health campaign about it. As the Hindustan Times reports, one local government has gone so far as to block people without toilets from obtaining passports!
Indian passport applicants are required to obtain a “No Objection Certificate” (NOC) from local police. The NOC is essentially a certification of good conduct, and is required for many official purposes, including getting a commercial driver’s license, gun permit, or passport. The superintendent of police in Katni District, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, has declared that his police department will now only issue No Objection Certificates to applicants who can produce proof that their home has a toilet. Applicants will have to ask local authorities known as “gram panchayats” to certify that not only do they have a toilet, but that they use it! The superintendent of police further states that even policemen from his own department will have to comply with the toilet requirement. It’s reported that more than 50% of households in Madhya Pradesh state do not have toilets, but subsidies are available under the national cleanliness program to help people build them.
France: You Can’t Have a Passport if You Smile
In France, you won’t be asked about the status of your toilette when you apply for a passport. But don’t get too happy about that – your passport application will be rejected if you smile in your passport photo!
A French civil servant known only as “Thierry” filed suit to challenge this rule two years ago after his passport application was rejected. According to rules laid down in 2009, French passport applicants need to have a neutral expression with closed lips, but French passport authorities have interpreted that to mean that the applicant may not smile at all. Even a faint “Mona Lisa smile” or, as the New York Times called it, “undertaker’s smile,” is cause for rejection. In 2014, a lower court denied Thierry’s case and upheld the ban on smiling. Thierry was undeterred, and felt that it was a matter of national morale to be allowed to smile in a passport photo. He pressed the case, but in early October, an appellate court agreed with the lower court’s decision. French travelers still may not smile at all in their passport photos!
United Kingdom: Passport Thefts On the Rise
The UK newspaper The Sun reports that passport thefts are on the rise, citing a study from Esure Travel Insurance that noted that 350,000 UK passports were lost or stolen in 2015. This is a 23% increase over the number of passports reported lost or stolen in 2014.
The Sun attributes this increase in lost or stolen passports to Brexit, the referendum decision for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. They postulate that if Britain becomes more difficult for travelers to access after the exit from the European Union, a stolen British passport will be a more valuable document. However, we are skeptical about this conclusion, given that the increase in stolen passports occurred throughout 2015, and the Brexit vote didn’t happen until June 23, 2016!
United Kingdom: Pregnant? Show Your Passport Before You Give Birth!
In other British passport news, Prime Minister Theresa May has backed a scheme to require pregnant women to show their passport or UK visa before they give birth. Britain boasts a socialized healthcare system known as the NHS, so citizens and legal residents are able to get free hospital services, including labor and delivery and postnatal care. Proponents of the proposal say that the NHS has long been covering the costs for “medical tourists” who will come to the United Kingdom for the purpose of giving birth in a UK hospital for free.
What do you think – could some of those stolen UK passports be going to pregnant women?
Switzerland: Politician Calls for a Ban on Hijabs in Passport Photos
A right-wing Swiss member of parliament, Walter Wobmann, has publically called for a ban on the wearing of hijabs in passport photos. The hijab is a headscarf worn by some Muslim women, which covers the hair but leaves the face visible. Current Swiss law on head coverings in passport photos is the same as US regulations – hats, scarves, and other head coverings are not allowed unless they are worn daily for religious reasons. The face must be visible and free from shadows. In both nations, the hijab is allowed in passport photos, but the burqa or niqab, which cover the face completely except for the eyes, are not allowed.
Wobmann claims that his call to ban the hijab in passports is not religious discrimination, but a matter of fairness, as other head coverings are not permitted to be worn. However, he has also previously spoken out against other facets of Muslim identity, such as the building of minarets and the wearing of burqas during daily life.