New rules cause passport chaos
By KIRAN CHUG - The Dominion Post
Last updated 05:00 02/12/2009

Internal Affairs' tough new passport photo rules are causing chaos, with officials repeatedly declining applicants because of what seem to be minuscule errors.

The rules have even stumped professional photographers, who have armed themselves with hair ties to smooth bushy locks and who are considering refusing to photograph babies.

Porirua woman Glenise Unsworth has made her fourth attempt at posing but not smiling for the camera so she can get a passport to visit her kids in Australia.

The Passports Office has rejected three photos of Miss Unsworth, 63, in the past month.

In one her hair is covering her ear, while in another her mouth is slightly open both no-nos.

Now she is wondering whether she will ever get a photo accepted, as each time she and the photographer had been sure they had covered off each requirement.

She considers herself fortunate she did not need the passport in a hurry. "With all the performance it's lucky I wasn't going for Christmas."

The owner of Wellington's Photo Plus, Chris Wilkinson, said there had been a "noticeable increase" in the number of people returning to have their photos taken again because they had been rejected.

Staff at the store had bought disposable hair ties to give to people with particularly voluminous hair, and were asking others to pull their hair back from their face. "It makes it difficult for people with afros."

The stricter enforcement of rules had "caught people on the hop", Mr Wilkinson said, and although it was possible for photographers to meet the requirements, ensuring that people's hair did not hide the edges of their face was challenging.

Internal Affairs spokesman Michael Mead said photographs were now being engraved by laser on the new passports, which meant rules introduced in 2005 had to be strictly enforced.

The guidelines are so passports comply with international aviation rules and allow facial recognition software to be used.

People who had photos rejected did not need to pay another application fee when they submitted a new photo.

It was too early to say how many more photographs were being rejected because of the tighter regulations, he said. The department had rejected less than 1 per cent of photos before the new passports were introduced on November 23.

In November the department provided advice to pharmacies and photographers with tips on how to meet the criteria.

Brooklyn Pharmacy owner Graeme Blanchard said the hardest aspect was the rules around hair. "They're trying to control hair, which will be interesting. We're all going to have a short back and sides."

At Brooklyn Pharmacy, about a quarter of the photos taken were now being rejected.

The rate was the same at Porirua Pharmacy, its photographer, Sharlene Cole, said.

Customers were fed up as they were allowing enough time for an application to be processed, but running out of time before they travelled because a photograph was rejected.

At Wainuiomata's Brian's Pharmacy, manager Hok Lim said the changes were costing time and money, as pharmacies took free photos to replace rejected ones.

The pharmacy was considering whether to continue taking photos of babies who are wriggly and struggle to look straight ahead as about 90 per cent of these were being rejected.

REASONS WHY PASSPORTS WERE REJECTED

Rejected: Because Miss Unsworth's face was too small in the photo and her mouth was slightly open.

Rejected: Because Miss Unsworth's hair did not fit within the recommended proportions and her eyes did not line up.

Rejected: Because Miss Unsworth's hair was obscuring her ear.

DON'T SAY CHEESE

How to get a passport photo

* Don't smile, laugh or frown.

* Keep your mouth closed and have a neutral expression.

* Your head and shoulders must cover 70 to 80 per cent of the photo.

* Do not tilt your head or look over one shoulder.

* Look directly at the camera.

* There needs to be a clear gap around the head.

Hair cannot touch the edge of the photo.

* Both edges of the face need to be shown clearly.

* Photos must be in colour, 35mm wide and 45mm long.

From here.