Passport Canada Consultations on Passport Services

Survey Report

Prepared for Passport Canada
November 2009

Executive Summary

Passport Canada commissioned Phoenix SPI to undertake research to explore issues related to a new 10-year ePassport that the Government of Canada intends to launch in 2011. The objective was to obtain Canadians’ perceptions of the enhanced passport, including a number of service-related issues, in advance of its launch. The research results will enable Passport Canada to better understand public perceptions of the new validity period and the enhanced product, and make informed decisions regarding implementation of the 10-year ePassport and the development of related communications.

This report presents the results of a telephone survey with 1,512 Canadian citizens, 16 years of age and older, conducted October 24 to November 14, 2009. Based on a sample of this size, the overall results can be considered to be accurate to within +/- 2.6%, 19 times out of 20. Results for the other elements of this research program – a set of in-depth interviews and focus groups – are available under separate cover.

Passport Status and Usage

In total, 69% of surveyed Canadians said they currently have a valid Canadian passport. Most passport holders reported using their passport infrequently for travel outside Canada (29% use it less than once a year, 43% once or twice a year). Regardless of frequency of use, the large majority of passport holders (88%) said they intend to ensure that they always have a valid passport, and plan to renew it before it expires.

Among non-holders of a Canadian passport (31%/n = 498), 61% said they have never had one. Non-holders of a passport were equally divided over the likelihood of applying for one within the next 12 months: 49% think they will apply (26% said definitely, 23% probably), and 49% think they will not apply (26% definitely not, 23% probably not).

Perceptions of Canadian Passport

Respondents were asked to identify any benefits or concerns that they associate with the current Canadian passport. The main benefit identified, by far, is that it facilitates travel. This includes facilitating international travel in general (60%), and travel to the United States in particular (29%). Beyond this, the only other benefit mentioned with considerable frequency is that the passport provides authoritative proof of identity (26%). Fully 70% of Canadians said they have no concerns with respect to the passport, or anything they do not like about it. The only concerns or negative aspects identified with any frequency were the 5-year validity period, which was perceived as too short (7%), and the perception that the passport is expensive (6%).

Perceptions of New 10-Year Electronic Passport

The large majority of Canadians (82%) were not aware of plans to introduce an enhanced Canadian passport by 2011. After listening to a short description of it, over three-quarters (78%) described their initial impression of the enhanced passport as positive (40% said very positive). The rest were almost evenly split between those whose initial impression was neither positive nor negative (10%), and those whose impression was negative (9%).

The 10-year validity period topped the list of benefits seen to result from the introduction of the enhanced passport, identified by 55% (on an unaided basis). This was followed, at a distance, by the impression that it would increase security/lessen fraud by making the Phoenix Strategic Perspectives Inc. i 10-Year ePassport – Focus Group Report 2009 passport harder to forge (22%), make it more efficient/easier to go through customs (19%), and could result in money savings (14%).

Using a 7-point scale (1 = not important at all, 7 = very important), two-thirds or more assigned at least moderate importance to each of five potential benefits that could result from the introduction of the enhanced passport. Respondents were most likely to assign importance to increased security/reduced fraud (85%), increased convenience (85%), and increased efficiency at customs (83%). Moreover, 67-73% assigned strong importance (scores of 6-7) to each of these potential benefits. Approximately three-quarters assigned importance to making Canada’s borders more secure (73%), and two-thirds to potential environmental benefits (67%), with majorities assigning strong importance to each.

On an unaided basis, well over half of surveyed Canadians (61%) said they have no concerns regarding the enhanced passport. Among the concerns that were identified, the only ones mentioned with any frequency were concern about the amount of information stored on the chip (13%), the impression that the 10-year validity period is too long (7%), and concern over cost issues/increased costs (7%).

Using a similar 7-point scale (1 = not concerned at all, 7 = very concerned), respondents assessed six potential concerns related to the introduction of the enhanced passport. The only issue about which a majority expressed concern (scores of 5 or more) related to the possible negative consequences if the electronic chip is damaged while traveling (58%). On the other hand, there were three issues for which majorities expressed little or no concern (i.e. scores of 1-3): the inclusion of an electronic chip in the passport (59%), the possibility that the passport would become dated because it is valid for 10 years (59%), and the amount of information stored on the electronic chip (53%). That said, at least onequarter of respondents expressed at least moderate concern with each of these, with the highest level of concern being the amount of information stored on the chip (36%). Respondents were divided on two issues: the potential for monitoring or surveillance because of the chip (47% expressed little or no concern, while 41% expressed at least moderate concern), and the safety/security of information stored on the chip (half expressed at least moderate concern, while 40% expressed little or none).

Three-quarters or more assigned at least moderate importance (scores of 5 or more on a 7-point scale) to each of four reasons related to the introduction of the enhanced passport. Moreover, majorities assigned strong importance to each of them (i.e. scores of 6-7). Respondents were most likely to assign importance to increasing passport security by combating forgery, identity fraud and tampering (86%), and helping Canadian travelers continue to enjoy a high level of visa-free access to other countries (83%). As well, 79% assigned importance to complying with the latest international standards for secure travel documents, and 74% to the fact that over 60 countries already issue electronic passports, including all other G8 countries.

If offered the choice, 76% of Canadians said they would prefer a 10-year passport to a 5- year passport at half the price (22% would prefer a 5-year passport, while 2% had no preference).

After respondents had been exposed to the additional information about the enhanced passport, including potential benefits and concerns, they were asked again about their impressions of it. The large majority (84%) described their overall impression of the enhanced passport, all things considered, as positive (41% said very positive). The rest were split between those whose impression was neutral (8%) and those whose impression was negative (7%). Compared to their initial impressions, Canadians became moderately more positive about the enhanced passport after learning more about it, with positive ratings increasing from 78% to 84%.

Cost and Service Issues

Two-thirds of Canadians think it is somewhat (45%) or very reasonable (21%) for the cost of children’s passports to be subsidized. Conversely, one-third think this is not very (13%) or not at all reasonable (20%).

Approximately two-thirds think it should take up to three weeks for Passport Canada to process an application under normal, non-rush circumstances: 19% said three weeks, 38% said two weeks, and 12% said one week. When it comes to urgent requests, almost half think it should take no more than three business days to receive their passport. Onequarter think this should take 4-5 days, 21% say 6-10 days, and 5% say 11 or more days.

When it comes to Canadians’ awareness of the ways in which one can submit a passport application, Passport Canada channels dominate. Just over half (53%) said one can submit a passport application in-person at a Passport Canada office, and almost as many (51%) said one can send an application to Passport Canada by mail. This was followed, at a distance, by 28% who believe (incorrectly) that one can submit an application online. One in ten identified submitting an application in-person at a Canada Post office/outlet, 8% pointed to in-person submission at a Service Canada Centre, and 7% identified government offices in general.

Fully 70% of Canadians think it is more reasonable that there be a quicker standard for passport applications submitted in person at Passport Canada offices (compared to other service channels), while 28% think it is more reasonable to have the same standard for all modes of service.

Subgroup Differences

On the whole, subgroup differences, while evident, did not tend to be large or pervasive. In three categories, differences tended to be patterned: age, education, and income. In terms of age, perceptions/knowledge tended to increase or decrease with age, or distinguish younger from older Canadians. These differences were most evident in relation to perceptions of the enhanced passport, and included the following:

  • Awareness of the new passport increased with age.
  • Canadians over 45 were more likely to be initially very positive about the enhanced passport.
  • When later asked for their overall impressions of the enhanced passport, all things considered, positive assessments increased with age
  • The likelihood of attributing strong importance to all reasons for introducing the new passport increased with age.

Similarly, differences by education, while not pervasive, tended to follow a pattern (i.e. increasing/decreasing with education, distinguishing Canadians with a university degree from those without one, or distinguishing Canadians with a high school education or less from others). These differences included the following:

  • Passport possession increased noticeably with education.
  • The likelihood of attributing strong importance to the following potential benefits of the enhanced passport decreased with education: increased efficiency, making Canadian borders more secure, and environmental benefits.
  • Preference for a 10-year passport increased with education.

Differences by income tended to mirror differences by education. Differences by region, rural-urban location, gender, language, and passport holder status, while evident, did not tend to follow patterns.

Conclusions and Implications

Overall reaction to the enhanced passport is largely positive and underscored by widespread preference for a 10-year compared to a 5-year passport. While positive reaction, especially top-of-mind reaction, is based primarily on the extension of the validity period, the ePassport aspect also resonates with Canadians as they learn more about it.

That said, the ePassport aspect of the enhanced passport is also the aspect most likely to generate concerns or questions. This includes questions about the amount and security of the information on the chip, as well as practical questions related to usage, including potential problems with the chip. Representatives of the travel industry voiced similar concerns, but from the perspective of professionals working in the field. In other words, there was concern (especially among travel agents) that travellers would be bringing these types of concerns of questions to them, looking for answers. Beyond this, the only concerns/questions identified with any frequency concerned the cost implications of the enhanced passport (the assumption being that the cost of the passport will increase), and concern about the potential out-datedness of the passport because of the 10-year validity period. Among tour operators, the cost implications of the new passport were particularly important since the cost of a passport was seen have an impact on the likelihood of travel (especially family travel), and therefore on their own business.

In short, despite an overall positive reaction to the enhanced passport, Canadians have many questions, suggesting the need for effective communications messaging preceding or accompanying its launch. Both the qualitative and quantitative research revealed that additional information about the enhanced passport tends to reassure and/or improve perceptions of it. Effective communication is all the more important given the limited awareness of the decision to launch the enhanced passport. In other words, it is likely that such communications will constitute the first information most Canadians receive about the enhanced passport. A number of representatives of the travel industry suggested that Passport Canada make available a short Q&A document for professionals in the travel industry so as to allow then to answer questions put to them by the travelling public.

Both qualitative and quantitative research findings suggest that communications should focus on the following:

  • Benefits of, and rationales for, the enhanced passport that resonate most with Canadians: The three main benefits seen to result from the enhanced passport are increased security/reduced fraud, increased efficiency (i.e. helping speed up going through customs in other countries, and increased convenience (i.e. only needing to apply for a passport every 10 years). Note that all three constitute concrete benefits to individuals as opposed to benefits to the country as a whole (e.g. making Canada’s borders more secure). While all reasons for introducing the enhanced passport resonate with Canadians, those resulting in personal as opposed to public benefits resonate most.
  • Drawing links between key benefits: Communications will be more effective to the extent that it draws links between benefits (i.e. how they work together or reenforce each other). For example, the survey revealed that the main perceived benefit, by far, that Canadians associate with the Canadian passport is that it facilitates travel. Consequently, emphasizing how the enhanced passport will contribute to this will likely constitute a powerful communications message. At the same time, it will be important to address concerns that any of the perceived benefits are at odds with each other. For example, concerns that a 10-year validity period adversely affect security and identity validation.
  • Reassurance that what is said about enhanced passport does actually happen: The importance of such reassurance emerged primarily from the qualitative (i.e. focus group) research where participants sometimes qualified their positive reaction to the enhanced passport by saying that they support its introduction based on the following assumptions: it will be effective in preventing fraud, the privacy of information on the chip will be ensured, there will be no additional information on the chip.

Finally, it is worth noting that Canadians’ service-related expectations regarding the amount of time it should take to obtain a passport are in line with current service standards. As well, most view the subsidization of children’s passports as reasonable, and there is considerable support for variable service standards depending on the mode of service used.