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Passport renewal chaos leaves British student’s place at top US basketball school in jeopardy

Passport renewal chaos has left the future of a British teenager in “jeopardy” as he risks losing out on his place at a top US high school for basketball.

Fabien Graham, 19, from London, won a competitive spot at South Kent School, Connecticut, but his future hangs in the balance as he still has no passport, despite applying for a new one on 14 March.

Mr Graham told Yo he is getting “nervous” as he has wanted to play basketball in the US for a long time, but now it has been “halted for a reason that I wouldn’t have suspected it would be a problem”.

He said: “It’s not very likely for somebody in my position to get this. It was very exciting for me and my friends and family.”

Severe delays at the Passport Office have caused havoc for people awaiting renewals in recent months. Customers have reported that it is almost impossible to get through on the phone lines to track their case, with two-hour long queues and calls being cut off.

The Passport Office’s urgent renewal services have only been intermittently available with very few appointments, if any, available each day.

Mr Graham’s initial passport renewal application has been rejected because more documentation was needed but he can not begin a new application until his current passport and birth certificate are returned to him, which can take two or three weeks.

“We are stuck between a rock and a hard place,” said Tracey Oakley, Mr Graham’s mother, who has done all she can to contact the Passport Office and send the correct documents in time.

Her son is due to leave for America in a matter of weeks for a pre-season training camp which starts on 18 June. Although the summer course is not essential for enrollment, Ms Oakley said it is a “huge advantage” as the standard of US basketball is much higher than in the UK.

If Mr Graham is not able to travel in time to start school on 22 August, he will lose his place and with it, the opportunity to “pursue his basketball dream”, said Ms Oakley.

Although he is still holding out hope that the passport will come in time, he said the situation has left him “frustrated” as he has worked hard for this opportunity.

Today, Ms Oakley took the “huge risk” of paying the $6,500 deposit which was needed to secure her son’s place at the school. This money will not be refunded if he cannot enroll this summer.

“We’re massively financially exposed because if he can’t start school in August then potentially we could lose that money and he could lose that place,” she said.

Fabien (centre, number 8 in blue) celebrating after his team won a basketball game (Photo: Dagenham Park School)

The basketball player said the postgraduate high school year would offer him the training and exposure he needs to win a place and scholarship at college in the US.

Mr Graham, who attended a state school in London, only started playing the sport aged 16, after switching from county-level football.

This is his last chance at pursuing his basketball dream, as he will be too old to apply for the essential postgraduate course year next under National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules.

The South Kent School in Connecticut is a top school which is part of the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council and the Hudson Valley Athletic League.

His mother, Ms Oakley, said she is “very worried” because the passport delay is putting “his whole education is in jeopardy”.

“We’re both ‘glass-half-full’ kinds of people but at the minute I feel the glass is half empty and I’m very, very worried,” Ms Oakley told Yo.

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She said that “the incompetence is off the scale” at the Passport Office, as it is almost impossible to reach them, and when she does manage to get through, she cannot get any answers or information.

Each time she has called the Passport Office since March, she has waited around two hours, with some of the calls cutting off after long wait times.

When she does get through, she has found there to be “an illusion of customer services, when actually they’ve got no power whatsoever”.

She likened customer services to a “human shield” because the people she has spoken to have been friendly, but they have no information so they are unable to help.

A HM Passport Office spokesperson said: “Since April 2021, we’ve clearly stated that people should allow up to 10 weeks when applying for their passport to factor in the increased demand, which has seen five million people delay their passport application due to the pandemic.

“The overwhelming majority of applications are completed within ten weeks, with the latest figures showing 90 per cent were completed within six weeks. But we cannot compromise security checks and people should apply with plenty of time prior to travelling.”

Yo understands the Home Office will now prioritize Mr Graham’s request.

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