Travel News

Passports can now be renewed online. Here's how to apply. - CBS

JUNE 19, 2024

U.S. travelers can now renew their passport online under a pilot program the U.S. Department of State launched on Thursday. 

The State Department's new online system will allow U.S. passport holders to start a renewal application for a short window of time every day, closing once the system has reached a designated number of new applications, officials said in a statement. The agency is preparing a full launch of the renewal system at some point after testing, but didn't provide an exact date. 

If successful, an online renewal system could shorten the sometimes monthslong process travelers experience when trying to update their passport. 

"During the next several months, we plan to continue to limit the number of applications accepted each day so we can monitor the system's performance in real time," the department said. "If you are unable to start your application, try again on another day."

Processing passports has become a growing problem for the State Department ever since COVID-19 travel restrictions were lifted, with the agency bombarded with an overwhelming number of applications each week. The passport application backlog grew so heavy last year that federal lawmakers from California, Colorado and Oklahoma introduced separate proposals to the Senate to speed up the application process. 

Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma proposed legislation that would improve the online tracking of passport applications and allow the State Department to hire more staff. Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Ted Lieu of California introduced the PASSPORT Act to streamline the passport application and renewal process.

The number of Americans holding valid U.S. passports has grown at roughly 10% faster than the population over the past three decades, said Jay Zagorsky, an economist at Boston University. Just 5% of Americans had a passport in 1990, according to the State Department. That number grew to 48% in December.

The State Department issued a record setting 24 million passports in 2023. Wait times for passport applications and renewals returned to their normal 6-8 week time frame in December, the State Department said

Renewing your passport online involves a six-step process:

  • Create a free MyTravelGov online account. 
  • After the account is created, log in and start a renewal application by clicking on the "Renew Your Passport" button.
  • On the form that appears, fill in all the boxes with the information currently printed on your passport.
  • Enter your plans to travel internationally if your departure is within the next eight weeks.
  • Upload a jpeg photo of yourself. No selfies. 
  • Pay the passport renewal fee and digitally sign the application.

Japa: Shortage of bricklayers, roofers, carpenters hits UK - VANGUARD

JUNE 19, 2024

By Efosa Taiwo

The United Kingdom, UK is grappling with a shortage of bricklayers and other construction workers, causing prolonged delays for homeowners seeking building services.

Since 2021, a staggering 415,000 people have experienced over a year-long wait to secure a builder, according to a national construction audit by Fix Radio.

The shortage extends beyond builders, with 301,000 households waiting a year for plumbers and heating engineers, 294,000 for roofers, and 274,000 for carpenters.

On average, the wait for a bricklayer over the past three years has exceeded three months, while landscapers, painters, and decorators have left customers waiting for two and a half months, per report from Daily Mail UK.

Industry experts highlight the severe impact of this skills shortage on major projects, including delays in completing the Co-op Live venue in Manchester.

To meet rising demand, an additional 225,000 skilled workers are to be needed by 2027 with economic repercussions significant as the UK is projected to miss out on £98 billion of growth by 2030 due to the skills gap.

The ageing workforce exacerbates the issue, with a fifth of construction workers now over 50 and a third planning to retire by 2030.

The Construction Industry Training Board’s Construction Skills Network estimates nearly one million tradespeople will retire in the next decade.

While migrant labour has somewhat mitigated the shortages, there is an urgent need to train more British workers.

Last year, bricklayers, plasterers, roofers, and carpenters were added to the Home Office’s shortage occupation list to address the deficit.

UK government initiatives aim to alleviate the problem, including cracking down on non-vocational university degrees and funding 100,000 apprenticeships. Both Labour and Conservative parties have focused on construction in their General Election campaigns, with Labour proposing new towns and Rishi Sunak promising to build hundreds of thousands of homes in major cities.

Clive Holland of Fix Radio emphasized the critical need for more builders, warning, “If political parties, irrespective of their stripe or colour, honestly believe they can address the housing crisis without having the serious conversation of addressing the skills deficit, we’re heading into a very dangerous position.”

A Fix Radio survey revealed that two-thirds of Britons felt insufficiently encouraged to pursue trades in school, and 18% of parents discouraged their children from entering the construction industry due to perceived low earnings.

Royal Air Maroc announces Abuja-Casablanca flight - PUNCH

JUNE 20, 2024

By Dare Olawin

Royal Air Maroc, the leading airline of Morocco, says it is excited to announce the launch of a new direct flight from Abuja in Nigeria to Casablanca in Morocco and other international destinations, starting on June 23.

The new route, according to the airline, underscores its commitment to expanding its global network and providing passengers with more travel options and convenience.

In a statement by its Country General Manager, Ahmed Anouar Boussouf, Royal Air Maroc said it would operate three weekly flights from Abuja to various destinations on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.

This schedule, it stated, would offer passengers flexibility and the opportunity to explore Morocco’s rich culture, history, and vibrant cities or connect seamlessly to other international destinations.

“Royal Air Maroc is thrilled to introduce this new route, which not only connects two dynamic cities but also bridges the gap between diverse cultures and communities. We are dedicated to offering our passengers exceptional service and the convenience of direct flights from Abuja, Nigeria’s federal Capital,” said Boussouf.

The general manager disclosed that passengers on this new route can look forward to exploring Morocco’s iconic attractions, from its bustling medinas and historic sites to its modern architecture and exquisite cuisine.

Royal Air Maroc, Morocco’s national carrier, is dedicated to providing top-quality air travel experiences with a focus on comfort, safety, and customer satisfaction. With a modern fleet and an expanding route network, the airline continues to connect people and places across the globe.

Meanwhile, prospective passengers are enjoined to visit www.royalairmaroc.com for more information about the new Abuja route, booking details, and promotional offers.

Pilgrims excited over news of early return to Nigeria; airlift begins on Saturday - PREMIUM TIMES

JUNE 20, 2024

NAHCON Chairman Jalal Arabi visited the pilgrims' tents in Muna on Tuesday, during which he broke the news of their early return to Nigeria.

By Mohammed Lere

Nigerian pilgrims in Saudi Arabia have expressed joy after receiving the news of an early return from the Chairman of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Jalal Arabi.

Mr Arabi visited the pilgrims’ tents in Muna on Tuesday, during which he broke the news of their early return to Nigeria.

The visit followed the final Jumsrat stoning ritual.

Mr Arabi told the pilgrims that their return journey would commence immediately.

” I came here to congratulate all of us for a successful Hajj and also to thank you for the cooperation we got from everyone.

” Rest assured, NAHCON’s preparations are already underway, and we are committed to ensuring that all pilgrims return home safely and expeditiously.

” Our team is working diligently to facilitate a seamless and efficient return journey for everyone,” he said.

Immediately after the visit, PREMIUM TIMES caught up with some pilgrims who were beaming with smiles and unable to contain their joy and excitement upon receiving the news.

” The joy of every pilgrim is for him to return home immediately after Hajj. This news is a very good news for pilgrims. For me, I can’t wait to be home,” said Abdulwasiu Olarenwaju from Lagos State.

Abdulkareem Mohammad from Kano State said, ” I want to go home; that is what is in my mind now. Hearing this information from the horse’s mouth it makes me feel good.

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Murjanatu Garba, from Kaduna State, said, “Mr Arabi had done so well in this Hajj, from feeding to accommodations to health. We must all commend him for a good job.

” If you can remember, he has broken the record of completing the airlifting of pilgrims from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia 72 hours before the Saudi government’s deadline. He can do it, and I know he will do it.”

Mohammed Ibn Mohammad, a pilgrim from Abuja, enthusiastically shared with PREMIUM TIMES that Mr Arabi has unequivocally demonstrated a new era of successful and prosperous Hajj operations in Nigeria, surpassing all expectations and setting a high standard for future endeavours.

” If you come to Hajj this year from Nigeria, you will not regret it, and surely you will miss it when you return because what Arabi did cannot be measured. This is his first Hajj, and look at what he did.

” In Muna, food, fruit, juice, water, and snacks were in abundance. We really enjoyed ourselves. We thank Allah for bringing Arabi on board,” Mr Mohammed said.

Meanwhile, in a post-Arafat meeting with stakeholders on Wednesday in Mecca, the Committee on Aviation led by Goni Sanda said that the airlift of pilgrims back to Nigeria would commence on 22 June.

” Three flights will leave Jedda with Abuja, Nasarawa and Kebbi pilgrims on that day,” he said.

Why foreign airlines want more frequencies into Nigeria — IATA - VANGUARD

JUNE 20, 2024

By Dickson Omobola

The International Air Transport Association, IATA, has revealed the reason foreign airlines are applying for extra frequency into the country, saying the clearing of blocked funds belonging to airlines by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, renewed their confidence in the Nigerian market.

IATA, in an email to Vanguard, also said the release of inventories from which the Nigerian market was formerly restricted was another indication of their desire to keep operating into the country.

Spokesperson for IATA, Katherine Kaczynska, in the mail, stated: “Given the additional capacity the airlines have been deploying in the Nigerian market since the clearing of the backlog of blocked funds, we can arguably say they still have confidence in the market.

“Airlines have now opened their inventories closed to the Nigerian market, some have returned to the complete frequency they operated prior to the reduction caused by blocked funds and other carriers that left the market have announced their return. Moreover, some have applied for additional frequency into Nigeria.”

Kaczynska, who noted that travellers from Nigeria had been enjoying lower fares due to the development, said further: “They should also expect more frequencies, more flight options to travel.

”Invariably, they would benefit from more competition among the operators in terms of lower fares and enhanced services.”

On whether the Federal Government had put in place mechanisms to ensure foreign airlines did not experience trapped funds in the future, she said: “No. We are not aware of any system put in place by the Nigerian government to mitigate a recurrence.”

On June 2, IATA said the federal government had paid 98 per cent of foreign airlines’ blocked funds, noting that the balance left was only $19 million out of $850 million.

Therefore, RwandAir, which reduced its daily frequencies to five flights weekly, has returned to daily flights to Lagos from Kigali, while maintaining its four weekly flights to Abuja.

Similarly, Kenya Airways has increased its frequencies to Lagos from seven to 10.

Also, Delta Air Lines said it would be operating seven flights to Lagos from New York. Before that announcement, Delta operated daily service between Atlanta and Lagos and, with the resumption of daily New York-JFK service, it will offer a total of 14 weekly flights to Nigeria in December through the first half of January and 10 weekly flights for the remainder of winter 2024.

Louisiana orders every classroom to display Ten Commandments - BBC

JUNE 20, 2024

BY Max Matza

BBC News

Louisiana has become the first US state to order that every public school classroom up to university level must display a poster of the Ten Commandments.

The Republican-backed measure signed into law by Governor Jeff Landry on Wednesday describes the commandments as "the foundational documents of our state and national government".

The law is expected to be challenged by civil rights groups, which argue that it contravenes the separation between church and state enshrined in the first amendment to the US Constitution, the so-called Establishment Clause.

It says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

The state law requires that a poster include the sacred text in "large, easily readable font" on a poster that is 11 inches by 14 inches (28cm by 35.5cm) and that the commandments are "the central focus" of the display.

It will also be shown alongside a four-paragraph "context statement" which will describe how the commandments "were a prominent part of American public education for almost three centuries".

The posters must be on display in all classrooms receiving state funding by 2025 - but no state funding is being offered to pay for the posters themselves.

Similar laws have recently been proposed by other Republican-led states, including Texas, Oklahoma and Utah.

There have been numerous legal battles over the display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings, including schools, courthouses and police stations.

In 1980, the US Supreme Court struck down a similar Kentucky law requiring that the document be displayed in elementary and high schools.

In a 5-4 vote, the high court ruled that the requirement that the Ten Commandments be posted "had no secular legislative purpose" and was "plainly religious in nature".

The court noted that in addition to criminal matters like killing and stealing, the Ten Commandments also made references to worshipping God including observing the Sabbath day.

Hajj 2024: Lagos prigrims begin return trips to Nigeria - THE SUN

JUNE 22, 2024

By Lukman Olabiyi

The Lagos State Pilgrims Welfare Board has finalized arrangements for the return of the 1,869 pilgrims who participated in this year’s holy pilgrimage through the State.

This was announced by the Amir-ul-Hajj and Commissioner for Home Affairs, Olanrewaju Ibrahim Layode, during an engagement with the pilgrims in Makkah.

Layode revealed that 188 pilgrims, including the elderly, those with health issues, and the ‘Lagos international Pilgrims’ from the USA and Europe, will depart on Sunday, June 23, on the same flight with the Kebbi State pilgrims.

He emphasized that the subsequent flights for the return of the remaining pilgrims would commence on Monday, June 24, with the second batch, following a ‘first-in, first-out’ system. Layode clarified that there would be no preferential treatment for any pilgrims unless absolutely necessary.

The current arrangement will continue until all pilgrims have been successfully airlifted back home.

More than 1,300 people died during Hajj, many of them after walking in the scorching heat - AP

JUNE 24, 2024


CAIRO (AP) — More than 1,300 people died during this year’s Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia as the faithful faced extreme high temperatures at Islamic holy sites in the desert kingdom, Saudi authorities announced Sunday.

Saudi Health Minister Fahd bin Abdurrahman Al-Jalajel said that 83% of the 1,301 fatalities were unauthorized pilgrims who walked long distances in soaring temperatures to perform the Hajj rituals in and around the holy city of Mecca.

Speaking with the state-owned Al Ekhbariya TV, the minister said 95 pilgrims were being treated in hospitals, some of whom were airlifted for treatment in the capital, Riyadh. He said the identification process was delayed because there were no identification documents with many of the dead pilgrims.

He said the dead were buried in Mecca, without giving a breakdown.

The fatalities included more than 660 Egyptians. All but 31 of them were unauthorized pilgrims, according to two officials in Cairo. Egypt has revoked the licenses of 16 travel agencies that helped unauthorized pilgrims travel to Saudi Arabia, authorities said.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief journalists, said most of the dead were reported at the Emergency Complex in Mecca’s Al-Muaisem neighborhood. Egypt sent more than 50,000 authorized pilgrims to Saudi Arabia this year.

Saudi authorities cracked down on unauthorized pilgrims, expelling tens of thousands of people. But many, mostly Egyptians, managed to reach holy sites in and around Mecca, some on foot. Unlike authorized pilgrims, they had no hotels to return to to escape the scorching heat.

In a statement Saturday, Egypt’s government said the 16 travel agencies failed to provide adequate services for pilgrims. It said these agencies illegally facilitated the travel of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia using visas that don’t allow holders to travel to Mecca.

The government also said officials from the companies have been referred to the public prosecutor for investigation.

According to the state-owned Al-Ahram daily, some travel agencies and Hajj trip operators sold Saudi tourist visas to Egyptian Hajj hopefuls, violating Saudi regulations which require exclusive visas for pilgrims. Those agencies left pilgrims in limbo in Mecca and the holy sites in scorching heat, the newspaper said.

The fatalities also included 165 pilgrims from Indonesia, 98 from India and dozens more from Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Malaysia, according to an Associated Press tally. Two U.S. citizens were also reported dead.

The AP could not independently confirm the causes of death, but some countries like Jordan and Tunisia blamed the soaring heat. AP journalists saw pilgrims fainting from the scorching heat, especially on the second and third days of the Hajj. Some vomited and collapsed.

Historically, deaths are not uncommon at the Hajj, which has seen at times over 2 million people travel to Saudi Arabia for a five-day pilgrimage. The pilgrimage’s history has also seen deadly stampedes and epidemics.

But this year’s tally was unusually high, suggesting exceptional circumstances.

In 2015 a stampede in Mina killed over 2,400 pilgrims, the deadliest incident ever to strike the pilgrimage, according to an AP count. Saudi Arabia has never acknowledged the full toll of the stampede. A separate crane collapse at Mecca’s Grand Mosque earlier the same year killed 111.

The second-deadliest incident at the Hajj was a 1990 stampede that killed 1,426 people.

During this year’s Hajj period, daily high temperatures ranged between 46 degrees Celsius (117 degrees Fahrenheit) and 49 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit) in Mecca and sacred sites in and around the city, according to the Saudi National Center for Meteorology. Some people fainted while trying to perform the symbolic stoning of the devil.

The Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, is one of the world’s largest religious gatherings. More than 1.83 million Muslims performed the Hajj in 2024, including more than 1.6 million from 22 countries, and around 222,000 Saudi citizens and residents, according to the Saudi Hajj authorities.

Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars on crowd control and safety measures for those attending the annual five-day pilgrimage, but the sheer number of participants makes it difficult to ensure their safety.

Climate change could make the risk even greater. A 2019 study by experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that even if the world succeeds in mitigating the worst effects of climate change, the Hajj would be held in temperatures exceeding an “extreme danger threshold” from 2047 to 2052, and from 2079 to 2086.

Islam follows a lunar calendar, so the Hajj comes around 11 days earlier each year. By 2029, the Hajj will occur in April, and for several years after that it will fall in the winter, when temperatures are milder.

At least 1,301 people died during Hajj - Saudi Arabia - BBC

JUNE 24, 2024

BY Thomas Spender

BBC News

  • Published 23 June 2024

At least 1,301 people died during Hajj, Saudi Arabia says, mostly unauthorised pilgrims who walked long distances in intense heat.

This year's pilgrimage took place during a heatwave, with temperatures at times exceeding 50C (122F).

More than three-quarters of those who died did not have official permits to be there and walked under direct sunlight without adequate shelter, the official Saudi news agency SPA said.

Some of those who died were elderly or chronically ill, the agency added.

Hajj is the annual pilgrimage made by Muslims to the holy city of Mecca. All Muslims who are financially and physically able must complete the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime.

About 1.8 million people took part this year, Saudi Arabia said.

Health Minister Fahd Al-Jalajel said efforts had been made to raise awareness about the dangers of heat stress and how pilgrims could mitigate this.

Health facilities treated nearly half a million pilgrims, including more than 140,000 who did not have a permit, he said, and some were still in hospital for heat exhaustion.

"May Allah forgive and have mercy on the deceased. Our heartfelt condolences go to their families," he said.

Saudi Arabia has been criticised for not doing more to make the Hajj safer, especially for unregistered pilgrims who have no access to facilities such as air conditioned tents and official Hajj transport.

Temperatures in Mecca climbed as high as 51.8C, according to Saudi Arabia's national meteorological centre.

Countries across the world have been giving updates on the number of their citizens who died, but Saudi Arabia had not commented publicly on the deaths or provided an official toll until Sunday.

AFP news agency quoted an Arab diplomat as saying 658 Egyptians had died. Indonesia said more than 200 of its nationals lost their lives, while India gave a death toll of 98 people.

Pakistan, Malaysia, Jordan, Iran, Senegal, Sudan and Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region have also confirmed deaths.

The fallout from the number of deaths, particularly involving unauthorised pilgrims, has been growing.

On Saturday, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly stripped 16 tourism companies of their licences and referred their managers to prosecutors for enabling illegal pilgrimages to Mecca.

On Friday Jordan said it had detained several travel agents who facilitated the unofficial travel of Muslim pilgrims to Mecca. Meanwhile Tunisian President Kais Saied fired the minister of religious affairs.

Hajj permits are allocated to countries on a quota system and distributed to individuals by lottery.

However the costs involved prompt many to try to take part without a permit, although they risk arrest and deportation if caught.

Before the Hajj, Saudi authorities said they had removed hundreds of thousands of unauthorised pilgrims from Mecca.

Airport extortion beyond aviation ministry’s control – Keyamo - PUNCH

JUNE 24, 2024

The Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, has said the issue of extortion of passengers by officials of government agencies at the nation’s airports is beyond the ministry’s control.

Keyamo, who stated this in a post on X on Sunday, however said the aviation ministry was working with other ministers responsible for the affected agencies to find a lasting solution to the problem.

The minister’s statement came in response to numerous complaints by travelers over alleged extortion by officials at the airport.

“I have received several complaints about the menace of begging and extortion at our International airports by a few unscrupulous persons who give all of us a bad image,” Keyamo said.

He added, “My phones are beeping every minute with messages about this from well-meaning Nigerians. Just to set the records straight, most of the agencies involved in this menace are not under the control of the aviation ministry, though they are stationed at our airports.

“However, I have been working closely with other ministers, arms of government and agencies who are responsible for these agencies and a solution is in sight soon.”

He mentioned that the ministry was collaborating with the National Security Adviser on the issue, adding that he would soon announce practical steps to “stem this ugly tide.”

The problem of begging and extortion at the nation’s airports has recently become a major concern for the Federal Government.

Recall that on June 14, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria issued a warning to airport users against offering bribes and encouraging extortion.

The agency stated that any staff or government agency operating at the airports found guilty of accepting bribes would face punishment.

The agency also announced the launch of a task force to eliminate touting, extortion, and other illicit activities at airports nationwide.

The authority stated that the task force had been assigned the responsibility of enforcing discipline among airport staff and fostering a culture of professionalism at all levels.


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