The Department of Foreign Affairs’ Office of Consular Affairs (DFA-OCA) should make a priority the passport applications of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) because delays in the issuance of their travel documents can be detrimental to their job opportunities abroad, a recruitment consultant said on Sunday.
Emmanuel Geslani noted in a statement that recruitment agencies have repeatedly requested the DFA to give top attention to the issuance of passports to OFWs.
Specifically, the recruitment officials want the agency to provide a shorter processing period for returning OFWs, who only have an average of two weeks of vacation.
New applications and renewal of passports can take up to 10 days of processing, not counting the time it would take an applicant to set an appointment.
“Failure for them to return to their jobsites at the designated days may mean the loss of their jobs. The special lane for vacationing workers should be reinstalled at all DFA consular offices,” Geslani said.
Issues about the passport delays cropped up after DFA-OCA Assistant Secretary Frank Cimafranca admitted during a news conference on Thursday that passport backlog topped 100,000 at one point because of technical problems encountered by the ePassport system in February this year.
By mid-June, the department decided to enter into a partnership with APO Production Unit, one of the government’s accredited printers together with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and the National Printing Office (NPO).
The BSP remains to be DFA’s partner in its ePassport project, but APO’s Batangas facility helped churn out about 6,000 to 7,000 passports each day.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, however, maintained that the delays was not caused by BSP.
He did not elaborate on the technical difficulties encountered by the system, only vaguely stating that the transfer to a new facility has affected the production.
The DFA receives about 12,000 passport applications from its Aseana, satellite and regional offices, as well as consular missions abroad.
Geslani said the delay “has a serious effect in the aspirations of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who are seeking better opportunities abroad in the absence of decent jobs in the country.”
“There is also a domino effect on the recruitment agencies that despite the demand for HSWs [household workers][continuing]to soar, [there is]lack of qualified OFWs with passports.”
Geslani noted that the recruitment industry has been consulting the DFA since 2014 when passport processing took 20 to 30 days.
That processing time “prevented select OFWs from being deployed immediately to their jobsites, and many lost their opportunity to work as their visas expired due to the lengthy processing time of the DFA due to some technical difficulties.”
To facilitate the processing of passports of such OFWs, the department required the presentation of job orders approved by the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency, which must be also authenticated or acknowledged by Philippine consular officers.
Still, recruitment agencies, especially in Mindanao, complained about the two- to three-month processing time that delays OFWs, mostly women, from leaving for HSW jobs in the Middle East.
Some regional office heads also do not honor the agreement between the consular office in Manila with recruitment officers, which further adds to the delay, Geslani said.