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Passports have become almost an essential document for verifying identities, allowing access to various foreign territories and validating immigration status for the country in which an individual may reside. The current process for a UK passport application can be done online and will be issued by HM Passport Office.
The first version of a modern UK passport was recognized in 1915, however travel and identity documents had been used since the medieval times. The origins of the etymology of the word ‘passport’ have been argued over the centuries as to whether or not the documents had anything to do with seaports or the safe passage through the gateways of city walls.
Documents officiated by the monarch were created in 1414 under the Safe Conducts Act. These documents were given to travellers from other countries to ensure their safety whilst travelling in the lands of the current reigning monarch. The old documents were also used for keeping track of and validating the journeys of travellers within the UK.
Historically, there have been versions of what we recognize as modern day passports that can be found in British Library. Over the centuries, the UK passport has changed in both design and processing. When the UK changed its name to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the official issued documents were changed to state the new name.
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When the 1900s introduced new travel innovations such as the train systems that ran throughout Europe, international travel consequently skyrocketed. The new influx of foreign travellers made regulating borders virtually impossible. The chaos that ensued forced passport and visa systems to shutdown until the First World War.
Leading to the First World War, passports were not required for individuals to travel to and from foreign countries. Around that same time, photographs of the passport holder became mandatory on the document. Additionally, the UK government no longer accepted any documents that did not verify the individual’s country of origin or meet the current security regulations after 1995.
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Before the updated machine readable 1988-burgundy passports, all passports were a dark blue from 1920 onwards. Crucial information was not printed in these early versions; they were hand written to specify who was traveling. Any changes to the written information—i.e. surnames, different individuals accompanying the traveller, and money taken on the travels—was revised and marked by an official stamp to indicate that the changes were authorized.
As new technologies were developed over time, these systems were applied to passport identity documentation in the UK to help prevent forgery and ensure proper record of all citizens traveling to and from the UK. A new biometric passport system was introduced to the UK in 2006, which allowed compliance to the new US visa waiver programme. The biometric passport includes an identity chip hidden in the hard cover of a passport book. The chip has been made harder to tamper with due to the fact that ink will stain the passport if the chip has been compromised.