The Estonian government approved objectives on Thursday according to which the processing of identity documents, i.e. passports and ID cards, at foreign representations will be simplified with the introduction of online applications and streamlining of passport deliveries by mail.
On the proposal of Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa), the Cabinet on Thursday approved objectives for how to improve the accessibility of consular services for Estonians living abroad, according to a ministry press release. Within the framework of these objectives, the processing of identity documents in foreign representations will be significantly simplified with the introduction of an online application environment and the streamlining of the system of passport deliveries by mail.
"Currently, applying for identity documents is inconvenient, expensive and time-consuming for Estonians living abroad as they have to go to the representation in person both to apply for and pick up the document," Reinsalu said, explaining the background of his proposal.
Within a few years, citizens should be able to contact the state just once: applying for documents should take place in an electronic environment, and the documents, once ready, should be delivered by courier, if a secure courier service can be ensured, he said.
"As a small country, Estonia only has a limited network of foreign representations, and citizens must often travel long and expensive distances to apply for documents," the minister noted, citing as an example Estonians living in Argentina, whose closest foreign representation is located in New York City, a ten-hour plane ride away. "Citizens also have to return to the foreign representation or the closest honorary consul to receive their passport, which is another expense and takes up even more time."
According to the proposal approved by the Cabinet on Thursday, in the near future, the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) will be able to issue passports directly via mail. The option to issue the document via a foreign representation or honorary consul will remain, however.
The current system is economically ineffective as well, Reinsalu continued.
"Right now, we are spending proportionally more resources at both foreign representations and the PPA on paper forms and forwarding and processing identity documents than we are receiving in state fees," he noted, adding that the absence of an online environment for handling applications is at odds with Estonia's image as a digital state.
In addition to identity documents, Reinsalu's proposal also touched on the issuing of e-residency cards, which also requires showing up in person at a foreign representation in most cases. Plans under the proposal seek to increase the number of external service provider issuing points that would issue both e-residency as well as ID cards for Estonian citizens.
The new solutions in question are to enter into force no later than 2022, but may be rolled out sooner should budgetary resources allow.
Editor: Aili Vahtla