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Due to travel restrictions, lockdown measures, and widespread reductions in workforces across the globe, you would be forgiven for assuming that the need for Apostilles would have dropped drastically in 2020. We requested official figures from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and compared them to our own customer data, to see what it revealed.
As of October 2020, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) changed their name to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
What is an Apostille?
Apostilles are government-issued stamps applied to documents by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office which have been verified as genuine. This stamp them makes the document officially recognised overseas, and is required when presenting paperwork to foreign authorities for official purposes.
They are the first, and sometimes only stage for all UK documents being presented overseas. If the document is being used officially in another “Hague Apostille Convention” member state, no further legalisation is required. Outside of this zone, additional Embassy stamps and often translations can be required. To read more about the Hague Convention and Apostilles, read our post here.
The official figures – what do they tell us?
We contacted the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the only official body in the UK authorised to issue Apostilles, and submitted a Freedom of Information Request for the number of Apostilles issued covering 2018, 2019 and 2020. This would allow us to compare the figures of the two years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic directly with 2020.
Number of Apostilles issued
Although there was a reduction of 137,906 on the previous year, the figures are still unexpectedly high based on the travel restrictions imposed on the UK for the majority of the year.
The majority of requests for Apostilles are made by either individuals relocating overseas, or businesses who have dealings with companies in other countries, including the export of goods. With such little movement allowed and the slowing of activity in many sectors, we would have projected a larger decrease in numbers.
What effect did we see at Vital Consular?
Although the number of Apostilles issued by the FCDO dropped, the number of requests we had to handle Apostille legalisation from our customers actually increased.
The figure isn’t drastic, with an increase of 7.6%, but the growth in Apostille-only orders has defied expectations, especially with us seeing an overall reduction in legalisation orders for other countries.
Why do the figures tell different stories?
Our figures show the overall number of Apostilles issued by the FCDO dropped by 25.74%, but our order numbers increased in opposition.
The FCDO closed to Apostille applications completely for a short time during the first period of lockdown in March 2020, only re-opening again in early April when it was safe and feasible to do so.
There are 2 FCDO offices where Apostille applications can be lodged; one in London which deals only with in-person Urgent requests and one in Milton Keynes. When functionality resumed, only the office in Milton Keynes opened with limits imposed. These included:
- Shorter opening hours
- Fewer staff working to allow socially distanced working environments
- In-person applications stopped – mail only submissions
- Pre-registered business customer applications only
- Document number limits to 10 per application
With services severely limited and only pre-registered business customers able to submit documents, anyone wishing to have their documents processed would have needed to contact an agent like Vital Consular to do this on their behalf.
Why did people still need Apostilles in 2020?
Although we don’t collect information regarding the purpose of the Apostille being required from customers, we’re often asked questions about processes and it comes up in conversations with our team. Our specialists have reported a range of reasons for our customers needing their documents processed over the previous year and these are the most common:
Citizenship and Irish passports
With things changing so much in the political landscape, alongside the huge disruptions in day to day life, things have been very much up in the air for most people. With Brexit still progressing at the latter end of the year, there was an increase in British citizens applying for an Irish passport.
There was a dramatic decrease in the overall number of Irish passport applications in 2020 (45% down on the previous year), likely due to the strict travel restrictions, but in contrast there was an all-time high in applications from Northern Ireland and Britain: 45,000 individuals making a first-time request across the borders.
Not only were British citizens using their Irish heritage to get hold of a second passport to make it easier to travel to and from the EU after Brexit, many were applying for citizenship of other EU countries in which they were residing, such as France and Italy. In order to complete their applications they would need to have their UK-issued personal documents, such as birth certificate, Apostilled and possibly translated in order to present them to the authorities in their country of residence.
Powers of Attorney (POAs)
With travel restrictions being imposed globally, this caused major disruption for those who reside, run businesses, and even own property abroad. Without being able to manage commitments in person, many issues could arise for individuals in this position. This is where a POA can help.
By creating a POA, you can appoint someone in-country who you trust to oversee your business, property or other management duties. You can choose more than one Attorney if required, and specify the control they will have, as well as how long the POA will be valid for. This has given peace of mind to many who have been unable to make journeys and would find it difficult to deal with matters from overseas.
In order for the Power Of Attorney to be legally enactable in the country where your Attorney is presenting it, it would need to be legalised. Many of these documents have been for use in other Hague Convention Countries, so we have seen a rise in requests to have these Apostilled for our customers.
How will Apostille figures change from 2021 onwards?
As an end to travel restrictions is in sight, we expect the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s Apostille figures to begin to rise again. The UK government has announced their projected roadmap out of lockdown restrictions and we are starting to see an increase in requests for legalisation of documents. This is likely due to individuals feeling more confident in making plans to relocate once the ability to travel resumes.
Brexit has also been completed during the pandemic, therefore when global movement reaches normality again there is a likelihood that there will be an increase in Apostille requests from the export sector. This is because the documentation required to export goods from the UK to the EU has become more stringent, with paperwork now requiring additional verification.
Overall, with the Brexit changes now in place around exporting goods and how UK passports work, and the likelihood that more people will want to relocate overseas than before lockdown, we predict that 2021-2022 will see the highest Apostille figures from the FCDO in the last decade.