‘Bleachers’ beware - Complexion change could cause travel woes
Scores of Jamaicans who bleach their faces are facing delays in renewing their passports as additional checks are often needed to confirm their identities.
The 'bleachers' are among the more than 2,100 applicants whose passport-renewal applications were referred for further investigation in the last two years by officials at the Passport and Immigration Citizenship Agency (PICA) in an effort to verify the authenticity of their identities.
Chief executive officer of PICA Andrew Wynter told The Sunday Gleaner that the agency referred 846 cases for further investigation in 2016 and 1,286 in 2017.
While some of these applicants were found to be committing fraud, others were referred because officials had a hard time determining whether the person standing before them and the one presented in a previous passport was the same person.
"We have had cases where some persons, when they were 22, they were very dark, and now, when they are 26, they have acquired a very light complexion," said Wynter.
"We have to do the verification to see if they are one and the same person," added Wynter.
Director of passport services at PICA Amy Johnson-Lynch noted that while the agency is aware that skin bleaching has become a part of the culture, it has to bear in mind its security requirements.
"Just imagine you were 116 pounds 10 years ago and black, and now, you are 200 pounds and almost white. It's day and night, so we have to verify. There are some where it is a case of fraud, and there are others where it is actually the same person," said Johnson-Lynch.
She has found that PICA is not the only organisation having challenges with those who lighten their skin.
"I believe there was a notice out once from one of the embassies where they had said they cautioned the persons who lighten their skin that if they come across the border and an immigration officer is not satisfied that the person on the visa is the one standing in front of them, then they are going to be refused entry. It is within the immigration officer's right to refuse you entry because they are not satisfied that you are the same one," she said.
"An advisory was sent out because I suspect people were going back to the embassy to ask why they were refused entry, and that came up," added Johnson-Lynch.
Among the other reasons for passports being sent for verification is the discrepancy between information on supporting documents like a birth certificate, for example.
"Another common one is where the bio data on the current birth certificate that is presented differs from what the person would have had in the first passport that they got or the passport that they are renewing," she said.
"When you present conflicting information, we have to verify," explained Johnson-Lynch.