Australia
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$150 for to queue for hours: Australians pay cash to avoid passport lines

Australians looking to side-step lengthy passport office lines are offering individuals on marketplaces such as Airtasker up to $150 to queue in their place, as the new Labor government scrambles to add extra staff to clear processing backlogs.

As international travel rebounds strongly, passport processing times have blown out, meaning some are waiting two months or longer for their official documents. The volume of applications per day have doubled on pre-pandemic levels, and this week hit a record high of 16,417 applications. Queues at Sydney and Melbourne’s passport offices have snaked around the block, with many forced to return day after day.

Sydney Passport Office queues were moving very slowly on Thursday.

Sydney Passport Office queues were moving very slowly on Thursday.Credit:Louie Douvis

But savvy holidaymakers unable to get a head start in long queues due to work commitments or lengthy travel times are offering cash to individuals willing to hold a place in line until they arrive.

“Coming from country NSW so may not arrive till after 8:30am. Due to significant queues I require someone to queue early for me,” one listing read, offering $150. Another that budgeted $70 for the task read: “I just need someone to wait in line for me at the Sydney passport office in the CBD ... Can be any time of day as I work close by.”

Emily Campbell is relieved to get her passport in time for her Europe holiday.

Emily Campbell is relieved to get her passport in time for her Europe holiday.

Someone who created one such listing is Paddington resident Emily Campbell, who departs for Europe in July and had to apply for a new passport after realising she’d lost hers. She joined the queue at Sydney’s Passport Office in Haymarket just before 8am on Monday morning, but soon realised there was no chance she’d be able to process her application before her workday began.

“I got there, and the lady in front of me told me she’d been every day for the last six weeks,” Campbell told the Sydney Morning Herald. The same lady estimated they would have to wait eight hours in line.

“It was honestly so stressful. People around me were crying,” Campbell said. “The whole system is in shambles right now.”

Campbell wound up lodging her application at Martin Place Post Office, which accepts fast-tracked applications. That evening, she got an email saying her passport was ready to be picked up.

Campbell considers herself very fortunate. “I don’t honestly know how my application was expedited so quickly,” she said. “I was like – ‘this is insane’. Everyone I’d spoken to said their passport had been taking over eight weeks.”

The following morning, she put a call-out on Airtasker with a budget of $90. “Need someone to wait in the line at the Passport office at Haymarket while I am at work,” she wrote. “You can [call] me when close to the front of the line and I will come meet you.”

After the Airtasker she chose queued for several hours, Campbell returned to the line 10 minutes before the passport office’s closing time and took the Airtasker’s place.

Within minutes, she had the passport in hand, and zero regrets about paying extra for a queue stand-in. “It wasn’t even the line itself – I knew it would take long. But the stress of people around [me] – it honestly felt like we were trying to cross a border, because it was so frantic and awful.”

Melbourne on Monday: Long queues at the Australian Passport Office, Collins Square, snake outside onto the footpath and around the block.Credit:Eddie Jim

On Thursday, Foreign Affairs Assistant Minister Tim Watts said passport office hours were being extended and staff were “triaging” customers to get lines moving more quickly.

Passport call centres will also gain 70 more staffers across this and next week and 250 more will be employed to help clear the passport processing backlog, he added. But it will take six weeks for the newly hired staff to be fully trained.

“The processing times are unacceptable at the moment,” Watts told 3AW, pointing to the Morrison government for failing to assign adequate resources to the passport office department.

“There’s no silver bullet. There’s no quick fix. But we’re hoping to see the issues start to be gradually turned around this week and next week, particularly as people go into the call centres.”

Airtasker boss Tim Fung said the first passport queuing task was listed in the middle of last week. About 15 more have popped up since.

Airtasker CEO Tim Fung.

Airtasker CEO Tim Fung.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

“Because of the way Airtasker is really a community platform, when somebody sees somebody else posting up this kind of task, other people go ‘oh my gosh, that’s a great idea. I’m gonna do that too’,” he told The Herald.

It’s also far from the first of this type of gig the platform has seen: people have issued call-outs for help obtaining Air Jordan sneakers or London theatre tickets, for instance.

And when American burger chain In-N-Out first popped up in Sydney in early 2016, people posted queuing jobs for that.

“That really set the trend for people doing more and more of these kinds of jobs on the platform.”