By Veronica Uy/INQUIRER.net
MANILA, Philippines—(UPDATE) If a passport applicant goes online today to set an appointment for when he can go to the new consular office to apply, he will get a September schedule.
The recruitment sector calls this situation “totally unacceptable” and “deplorable” for overseas Filipino workers who cannot afford the delay in the processing of their travel documents. Most go home only for a couple of weeks, renewing their passports, work permits, visas, and other papers during their short stay.
In a news release, recruitment leader Jackson Gan, vice president for marketing of the Federated Association of Manpower Exporters (FAME), said OFWs “have to be at their jobsites at the agreed time and any delays in their arrivals are hurting their chances in earning income for their families.”
Passport processing time, he said, “has gone from 20 working days to 40 working days or two months as the backlog continues to pile up at the supposedly state-of-the-passport facility where over half a billion pesos lent by the DBP was spent by the DFA in the latest information and communication technology.”
The delay has spawned fixers who charge P5,000 for three-day processing, Gan said.
He said Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo may be too “busy trying to keep his job with the incoming administration” that he has not paid attention to this problem.
Gan warned that long delays in passport processing will cost some OFWs their jobs.
When asked to comment on the complaints, Assistant Secretary Jaime Victor Ledda of the Department of Foreign Affairs-Office of Consular Affairs (OCA) said he has already added more shifts, even during lunch time, to address the problem but there are just too many applicants for the electronic passport.
Ledda said he has already increased his office’s capacity from 2,500 per day in March to 3,500 now, but it is still not enough.
“The number of applicants has been increasing since March and we’ve been trying to adjust to the surge since,” he said.
To further reduce the waiting time, OCA said it is planning to open its offices every Saturday starting next month.
OCA is also planning to open more Regional Consular Offices (RCOs) nationwide. The ePassport is already available in 19 RCOs.
With these measures, OCA is expecting to bring down the waiting time for appointments to between three weeks and one month.
In a news release issued later in the day, OCA said the non-appearance of those who scheduled an appointment exacerbated the situation. It said 40 percent of individuals who have set appointments do not show up on the designated dates. In any case, it said OCA still keeps these slots since these were not cancelled by the applicants.
OCA thus urged the public to appear on their appointed dates. “They may also cancel their appointments if they will not be able to show up so that these could be allocated for other applicants,” it suggested.
OCA also attributed the two-month waiting time for appointments to the peak summer season and the huge demand for the Philippine ePassport. It expects the 3,500 daily applicants to go down by July.
To address the problem of OFWs who have to leave immediately as specified in their contracts, Ledda said a satellite office has been set up at the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration in Ortigas. It opened today and can handle 200 walk-in applicants a day.
He said an OFW without any appointment can simply walk in and have his passport renewed or processed. “For as long as he has the complete documents, we will be able to process his passport immediately,” he said.
However, this satellite office might not be able to handle more than its 200daily capacity.
“In excess of 200 applicants, applicants will be provided on-the-spot appointment for the succeeding days,” Ledda said.
Those who may apply at the satellite office include seafarers and sea-based workers and members of their families, land-based Balik-Manggagawa (visiting or returning OFWs and their families), and DFA-accredited manning and recruitment agencies.
At the same time, the DFA said a number of Philippine foreign service posts are also now issuing the ePassport so Filipino workers or migrants need not come home to have their passports renewed. These include Agana, Brunei Darussalam, Chicago, Doha, Dubai, Hong Kong, Honolulu, Kuala Lumpur, London, Los Angeles, Milan, New York, Osaka, Ottawa, San Francisco, Seoul, Tokyo, Toronto, and Washington DC. Other posts are expected to issue the ePassport in due course.
By Veronica Uy