The biometric passport; its appearance and biometric data stored on it; requirements and procedures to obtain a biometric passport from within Albania; whether it can be replaced or renewed from abroad [ALB103818.E]

28 September 2011
Albania: The biometric passport; its appearance and biometric data stored on it; requirements and procedures to obtain a biometric passport from within Albania; whether it can be replaced or renewed from abroad
Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
The Albanian Telegraphic Agency (ATA) reports that applications for new biometric passports started being processed in January 2009 (12 Jan. 2009). By the end of 2010, more than one million biometric passports had been issued in Albania (BIRN 11 Oct. 2010; ATA 1 Nov. 2010; Reuters 15 Dec. 2010). In a telephone interview with the Research Directorate, an official at the Embassy of Albania in Ottawa stated that, as of September 2011, approximately two million biometric passports have been issued (Albania 7 Sept. 2011).
Sources indicate that the biometric data stored in the passport includes fingerprints and facial images (EIU 31 May 2010; IHT 28 May 2010). According to the European Union (EU)'s European Commission, the security features of Albania's biometric passports meet EU and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards (EU 14 Oct. 2009). These standards are outlined in an EU Council regulation passed in 2004 (Hornung Sept. 2007, 247; EU 2004), and in the ICAO's two-volume Machine Readable Travel Documents publication, also known as Document 9303 (ICAO 2008, I-1; EU 2004 no. 3).
The EU regulation stipulates that member states include a facial image and fingerprints on a storage medium in the passport or travel document and that they designate only one body for printing such documents (EU 2004, Art.1(2), 3(2)). The ICAO specifies that the medium for storing electronic data of the face and other biometrics, such as fingerprints and iris, should be contactless integrated circuit (ICAO 2008 I-2). The EU regulation also outlines the minimum levels of security that passports and travel documents are required to provide in terms of paper, printing and issuing techniques, as well as measures to protect against copying (EU 2004 Annex). However, while the EU commits to establishing additional security features with a view to combating counterfeiting and falsification, it indicates that these will "be secret and not be published" (ibid. Art. 2, 3(1)). For its part, Albania, in keeping with its dialogue on visa liberalization with the EU (EU 14 Oct. 2009, 5), submitted a progress report in 2009 in which it points out that before issuing the biometric passport, the applicant's biometric data is verified at the "Personalisation Centre" against an automatic fingerprint identification system (Albania 16 Nov. 2009). According to the Albanian Ministry of Interior, the safety features of the biometric passport include Watermark, Safety Bar, Optically Variable Ink (OVI) and Ultraviolet (UV) technology (Albania n.d.a).
A sample biometric passport is posted on the Albanian Ministry of Interior's website and attached to this Response. In addition to the card-holder's photograph and signature, the passport includes the following information fields: type, surname, given names, nationality, date of birth, place of birth, date of issue, issuing authority, code, passport number, sex, date of expiry and personal number (Albania n.d.a). The names of the information fields are written in both Albanian and English (ibid.). The passports are a burgundy colour (ibid.).
Requirements and procedure
Directions for applying for the biometric passport, as posted on the government's information website e-Albania, indicate that citizens apply for passports at civil office centers (Albania n.d.b). Those 16 years of age and older must submit their biometric identity card and an "application coupon," which is also described as a "payment coupon" (ibid.). The ATA indicates that payment coupons for biometric passports are sold at post offices (24 July 2009). Media sources report that the fee for a biometric passport is 50 euros [68.66 Canadian dollars ( 21 Sept. 2011)] (BIRN 9 Oct. 2009; Reuters 15 Dec. 2010). Citizens 16 years of age and over can apply for the biometric passport at the same time as they are applying for the biometric identity card (Albania n.d.b). For information on biometric identity cards, see Response to Information Request ALB103817 of 22 September 2011.
Citizens under the age of 16 who are applying for a biometric passport must be accompanied by a parent, legal guardian or a "representative with special proxy" (Albania n.d.b). The Albanian embassy official explained that such a representative is a person authorized by law to take care of the child, and that the arrangement would be made through an attorney (Albania 7 Sept. 2011). Applicants under the age of 16 must submit an application coupon and a valid identity document with a photograph such as a personal certificate or a former passport (ibid. n.d.b).
According to e-Albania, the passports are processed within 15 days of the application's submission and can be picked up at the "distribution offices" of the relevant police directorate by the applicant or close family members, such as a spouse, parent or child; or in the case of citizens under the age of 16, the applicant's legal guardian or "special proxy" representative (ibid.).
The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network's (BIRN) regional news site Balkan Insight indicates that the passports are produced by Aleat, a joint venture of the French company Sagem and the American Enterprise Fund (BIRN 9 Oct. 2009).
Procedure for applying from abroad
The Albanian embassy official indicated that Albanian embassies in Greece and Italy can process applications for biometric passports of Albanian citizens living in those two countries (Albania 29 Aug. 2011). The official indicated that the process follows the "same general procedure" as that in Albania (ibid.). Details on the procedure could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. According to the official, Albanians residing in countries other than Greece or Italy, such as Canada, can apply for the biometric passport only by returning to Albania, since the photograph and fingerprints are taken on site (ibid.). The official explained that if an out-of-country citizen's passport expires, or if the passport is lost or stolen, the embassy can issue a laissez-passer (travel document) to enable the person to return to Albania (ibid. 7 Sept. 2011).
Albania's Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports that the issuance of non-biometric Albanian passports at consulate offices abroad was discontinued as of 1 July 2009 (Albania 16 Nov. 2009, 2). The embassy official corroborated the Ministry of Foreign Affairs report by saying that the embassy in Canada no longer issues non-biometric passports (ibid. 29 Aug. 2011). However, he also noted that the non-biometric passports remain valid until they expire (ibid. 7 Sept. 2011).
Visa requirements for biometric passport holders
Several sources report that on 15 December 2010, the EU lifted visa restrictions for Albanians holding biometric passports (Xinhua News Agency 15 Dec. 2010; IHS Global Insight 16 Dec. 2010; Reuters 15 Dec. 2010). The Balkan Insight explains that the issuance of biometric passports was one of the conditions that Albania had to meet to join the "White Schengen list," which permits visa-free travel to most EU countries (BIRN 11 Oct. 2010). According to the International Herald Tribune, the Schengen zone includes Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and all EU member countries except Britain and Ireland (28 May 2010).
This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
Albania. 7 September 2011. Embassy of Albania, Ottawa. Telephone interview with the Consul by the Research Directorate.
_____. 29 August 2011. Embassy of Albania, Ottawa. Telephone interview with the Consul by the Research Directorate.
_____. 16 November 2009. Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Visa Liberalisation Dialogue: Second Readiness Report on the Implementation by Albania of the Roadmap for Visa Liberalisation. (European Stability Initiative) [Accessed 16 Aug. 2011]
_____. N.d.a. Ministry of Interior. "Pasaporta biometrike." [Accessed 23 Aug. 2011]
_____. N.d.b. e-Albania. "Application for Biometric Passport." [Accessed 12 Aug. 2011]
Albanian Telegraphic Agency (ATA). 1 November 2010. M. Shkurta. "Visa Liberalisation: 1.2 Million Applications for Biometric Passports." (BBC Monitoring 2 Nov. 2010/Factiva)
______. 24 July 2009. Mira Shkurta. "Albanian Post: Over 1.3 Million Applications for ID Cards, 55 Thousand Applications for Biometric Passports." (Factiva)
_____. 12 January 2009. "Premier Berisha Hails Start of Electronic Cards Application Process." (Factiva)
Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN). 11 October 2010. Ardi Pulaj. "Albanians 'Race' to Apply for Biometric Passports." Balkan Insight. [Accessed 12 Aug. 2011]
_____. 9 October 2009. "Albania Issues New IDs, Biometric Passports." Balkan Insight. [Accessed 12 Aug. 2011]
Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). 31 May 2010. "Albania: The Journey to Europe." (Factiva)
European Union (EU). 14 October 2009. European Commission. Albania 2009 Progress Report. (COM [2009] 533) [Accessed 16 Aug. 2011]
_____. 2004. Council Regulation (EC) No. 2242/2004 of 13 December 2004 on Standards for Security Features and Biometrics in Passports and Travel Documents Issued by Member States. [Accessed 20 Sept. 2011]
Hornung, Gerrit. September 2007. "The European Regulation on Biometric Passports: Legislative Procedures, Political Interactions, Legal Framework and Technical Safeguards." SCRIPT-ed. Vol. 4, No. 3. (University of Edinburgh, School of Law) [Accessed 20 Sept. 2011]
IHS Global Insight. 16 December 2010. Dragana Ignjatovic. "Albania, Bosnia Gain Visa-Free Travel to Europe." (Factiva)
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). 2008. Machine Readable Travel Documents. Part 3: Marchine Readable Official Travel Documents, Volume 2, Specifications for Electronically Enables MRtds with Biometric Identification Capability. 3rd ed. (Doc. 9303) [Accessed 20 Sept. 2011]
International Herald Tribune (IHT) [Neuilly Cedex, France]. 28 May 2010. Stephen Castle and Judy Dempsey. "EU Offers to Grow Its Visa-Free Zone; Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania Would Join to Help Stabilize Balkans." (Factiva)
Reuters. 15 December 2010. Benet Koleka and Daria Sito-Sucic. "Albanians, Bosnians Rejoice at Visa-Free Travel." (Factiva) 21 September 2011. "Currency Converter Widget." [Accessed 21 Sept. 2011]
Xinhua News Agency. 15 December 2010. "Roundup: Albanians Celebrate Free Travel to EU, Rush Across Borders." (Factiva)
Additional Sources Consulted
Internet sites, including: European Country of Origin Information Network, Factiva, Legislationline, United Nations Refworld, United States Department of State.
Albania. N.d. Ministry of Interior. "Pasaporta biometrike ." [Accessed 31 Aug. 2011]