Officials are yet to determine the criteria for appointing the agents and fixing the fees
The government plans to appoint technologically sound agents at the passport offices to help people with little or no knowledge complete the application process without harassment.
The process of appointing the agents and fixing the service charge has not been finalized yet, say officials at the Security Services Division of the Home Ministry.
They are against legitimizing the existing brokers, who have long been engaged in such activities at the passport offices in Dhaka and elsewhere in the country.
The law enforcers often launch drives against them for harassing the applicants in the name of helping them handle the whole process – from filling out the application forms to collecting e-passports.
Although the Directorate of Immigration and Passport (DIP) office at Agargaon was declared "agent-free", such people are yet seen roaming around the vicinity every day and offering “help” to applicants, especially migrant workers, but at exorbitant rates.
Mokabbir Hossain, secretary of the Security Services Division, thinks the initiative will ease the sufferings of the service seekers.
“Since the application process is a technical matter, the agents must have the skills to fill out a form, upload documents on the website, and complete other stuff properly. We have sent a letter to the DIP in this regard to determine the criteria for appointing the agents and fixing the fees,” he told Dhaka Tribune on Thursday.
The option for filling out forms by the applicants themselves will always remain open," he said.
The secretary said many people were still not adept in filling out passport application forms online. They often take the help of friends or family, or visit computer shops as a last resort. Many others accept offers from informal brokers.
The situation at the district passport offices is already dire with the infestation of brokers at various levels. Most of the time, people fall prey to the agents, who resort to various tricks to realize more money.
Such has been the predicament of one Qatar-bound worker, Shamsul Alam, 26. He was seen waiting in front of an assistant director’s office at the DIP. Despite applying for an e-passport three months ago, he was still waiting for it.
“I made an application for a re-issue of my passport three months ago from my hometown in Munshiganj. A local agent named Khalil took Tk20,000 assuring me that I would receive the passport quickly. But now, after coming here, I see the official fee is only Tk4,500. Moreover, I can’t trace the broker now. Without a passport, I’ll not be able to extend my work visa,” he said.
Maj Gen Ayub Chowdhury, the DIP director general, claimed that the officials and the law enforcers had been patrolling the area regularly to keep the area "agent-free".
“Our efforts are going on to make the passport application process hassle free,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
He also denied having any knowledge of the appointment of official agents. “We are thinking about taking some initiatives to ease people’s sufferings. But nothing is concrete as of now,” he added.