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Following warnings from Interpol that something must be done to stem the high number of Israelis who sell their passports abroad, the Interior Ministry is pushing through legislation to introduce new biometric passports by the end of next year.
A biometric passport is a combined paper and electronic identity document that uses biometrics to authenticate the citizenship of travelers. The passport's critical information is stored on a tiny computer chip, much like information stored on smart cards.
The Interior Ministry also wants to significantly increase the cost new passports for people who lose their existing document. It currently costs NIS 450 for anyone who has reported a passport as missing or stolen to be issued a new one. The Interior Ministry wants that fee increased to thousands of shekels to discourage possible fraud.
In 2005, Interpol approached Israel following increasing reports of Israeli passports reaching criminal elements in a number of countries. The problem was reported to be especially prevalent in India, Australia, Japan and Thailand.
Interpol warned Israel that if action were not taken, a number of countries would soon stop honoring Israeli passports.
Some 27,000 Israeli passports are reported stolen or missing each year, 500 of which go missing each month in foreign countries.
Interior Ministry officials believe that the overwhelming majority of missing passports are the result of loss or theft. However, there have been growing reports in recent years of cash-strapped Israelis abroad, mainly backpackers, selling their passports to finance the remainder of their trip.
There have also been reports of Israelis who were expelled from a foreign country reentering after obtaining a new passport back in Israel.
While some of the passports have fallen into criminal hands, a greater fear is that the "missing" Israeli passports may end up in the hands of terrorists.
As part of efforts to crack down on the problem, the Interior Ministry has decided that Israelis traveling abroad who report a passport missing will only be issued a temporary laissez-passer travel document.
But the long-term solution, the ministry believes, is changing to biometric passports that cannot be exploited by criminals or terrorists.