Passport processing and the Filipino global diaspora

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Last Thursday, I renewed my passport which was due to expire in October 2014. One of my daughters, who is handling the renewal of our family visas for the United States, thought that my passport was valid until 2015. However, through sheer serendipity, I came across the photocopies of my passport while filing some files and was rather surprised that it was only good for two more months!

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My impression on the renewal of passports was that it would be a breeze since the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has now made it convenient for Filipinos in Metro Manila who will either apply for their passports for the first time or have them renewed. Since October 2012, the DFA has put up satellite offices in malls like SM Manila, SM MegaMall, Robinsons Galleria, Ali Mall in Cubao, and Metro Alabang in Muntinlupa.

The convenience of passport applications being done in the malls in the past two years is a far cry from those days when you had to go to the DFA office on Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City and later on to the DFA Aseana along Macapagal Avenue where there was no place to park your vehicle except at the restaurants across the main road. Today, there are five DFA satellite offices operating in the Metro Manila area.

However, the waiting and processing time remains the same at about three hours. In short, you lose half a day or four hours just for your passport processing: three hours being inside the DFA satellite office and another hour for travel time. Ms. Karen Amodia, a 27-year woman employed in Laguna Techno Park in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, took a half-day off from work. She arrived at 2:30 PM for her 3:00 PM “appointment” and got finished at 5:45 PM.

The waiting time for your “appointment” alone is at least one hour. This means that if you have a 3:00 PM “appointment,” you are instructed by the DFA website to be there 30 minutes early or at 2:30 PM. However, you can only get inside the DFA office for processing after one hour to one hour and a half. This means the 3:00 PM batch that began waiting at 2:30 PM started entering the DFA enclosed office at 3:30 PM up to 4:00 PM.

Once inside, the passport processing from Step 1 to Step 3 will take you another 1.5 to 2.0 hours. All told, three hours there at the DFA South at Metro Alabang for your passport application. Amazing that the leadership of DFA until today has not addressed the issue of spending three long hours at their satellite offices.

The solution to long processing time
There were almost 1,000 passport applicants last Thursday at the DFA South in Metro Mall Alabang in Muntinlupa City. So how can the leadership of DFA cut the waiting and processing time of three hours? The answer is quite simple and does not involve “rocket science.” Cut the number of applicants per day and you reduce the processing period. How simple can it get!

For instance, putting in a daily quota of 700 applicants can easily reduce the processing period of three hours to only two hours. So how come the DFA cannot think of doing it? It will be not be a big problem because the other 300 applicants can just be moved to the next day. So the possible delay is only one day at most.

The solution to processing time is actually taken up in a course in Operations Research called “Queuing Theory” because it is a “mathematical study of waiting lines or queues” (Wikipedia). It’s about computing for the time that it would take to finish a certain task or process. Its application can be from tollbooths to factories (manufacturing) and shops to offices or hospitals, such as in providing service or paying bills.

The early origins of the Queuing Theory began more than a hundred years ago in 1909 when Danish mathematician and engineer Agner Krarup Erlang worked on his models with the Copenhagen telephone exchange. Later on, the interest in its other applications spread after World War II in the late 1940s. Today, its vast applications like in telecommunications traffic are studied in Operations Research, a subject offered in courses in Industrial Engineering or Industrial Management Engineering.
 
Why the myriad passport applications?
The DFA website says that a maximum of 1,000 applications are accepted in their six offices in Metro Manila. Then there are the DFA regional offices across the country plus additional DFA satellite offices, such as in Bacolod, Negros Occidental, which was opened three years ago in 2011 due to the many passport applicants from the province who work abroad as OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) like the Filipino mariner or seaman.

Easily, there are about 8,000 passport applications per day or about 180,000 per month or at least two million passports issued per annum. Today, there may be 20 million Filipinos with passports, including our compatriots who either are holding dual citizenships or are immigrants to other countries.

The demand for Philippine passports is mainly due to Filipinos who are either working abroad as OFWs or migrating to their progressive adoptive countries. There are also those – like the two women I met yesterday – who applied for their passports not for travel or holidays, but to be ready when the opportunity presents itself either as an OFW or as an immigrant to America, Canada, Australia or New Zealand.

The official statistics of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) show that more Filipinos have left the Philippines as OFWs in the past three years (at 5.0 million) under the Aquino administration. Just another proof that the impressive economic growth in 2013 hardly means anything in terms of employment generation—the real inclusive growth!

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14 Comments

  1. I don’t think setting a quota will solve the problem. Its a disservice to the people who take their leave at work only to find out that they can no longer be accommodated. Perhaps cutting through the queue by shifting some actual face-to-face transactions into online filling-up of data dramatically reduce the waiting time. As I have experienced, getting a passport mean going to DFA and several unwanted waiting because the staff encodes your data in the database. If they can just allow people to encode their own prior to the appointment, only present the valid IDs, have their picture taken, biometrics, etc. then im sure it will be a breeze.

    • Once you get appointment through the DFA website, you are SURE to be ACCOMMODATED. So there is No “Disservice” that will be happen. At present, there is already a quota of 1,000 Maximum per DFA satellite office in Metro Manila. The proposal is to reduce it by 30% to only 700, so waiting and processing time can be reduced to 2 hrs, instead of 3 hours.

  2. danny c baleros on

    filipinos like to copy almost everything from the USA. why not copy its system when applying or renewing passport

    • The reason for the long waiting and processing time of three hours is due to the sheer number of passport applicants. Thus, the proposal to reduce the quota of 1,000 applicants per DFA satellite office in Metro Manila to only 700 applicants per day. This will reduce the waiting and processing time from 2.0 hours to 2.0 hours. Better yet at 500 applicants per day, so it will just be 1.5 hours: 0.5 hour for waiting and 1.0 hour for processing.

  3. Ours is better than other countries, there are always room for improvement.We often compare our system to the first world countries, but if you look on the other side our country is at par with other countries.

    • Nothing to do with other countries, we have to set our benchmarks, such as reducing waiting and processing time from 3.0 hours to 2.0 hours by reducing the daily quota from 1,000 applicants per day per DFA satellite office to only 700 applicants. Better yet, make it only 500 applicants so waiting and processing time is cut by one-half or 50% to only 1.5 hours: 0.5 hour for waiting and 1.0 hour for processing. Mabuhay!

  4. Thanks for sharing this article. Happened to read it just minutes before my own appointment with the same DFA office my experience was quite the opposite: went there at 10:15 am for my 10:30 am appointment. The process took just 45 minutes, at about 11:15 I was done with all the steps including courier. I guess the experiences vary depending on the day and time. The DFA Staff were all quick and happy to serve, which is a welcome treat for taxpayers like me.

    • Please check how on how many applicants were you that day. If you only waited for about an hour or 45 minutes, then there must have been Less Than 500 applicants that day or Less than 50% of the daily quota of 1,000 applicants. If you read the article last Saturday and DFA was open on said day, this explains the short waiting and processing time.

  5. One thing ive learned in the philippines is if there is an easy way to do something the philippines wont use that way. There motto seems to be why make something easy when it can be made difficult. Ill give you a very very simple example. In the immigration ( which has greatly improved ) getting my i-card, you have your finger prints taken on this brilliant easy electronic machine. Its very quick & easy & mess free. After haveing them taken i said thats brilliant no messy ink to have to contend with, but the guy then said no now you have to go over there to that guy & have your finger prints taken using the ink method. I asked him why after having them taken with the electronic machine & he said we need a paper copy incase the computer goes down. Tell me how easy is it to print off a copy from the computer. But thats the philippines dont make anything easy if you can avoid it.

    • There is a need to look into a the systems and procedures in government offcies. I proposed the same 30 years ago in the mid-1980s during the Marcos regime. I proposed for a government agency to do it. However, the same can be outsourced today through a consulting firm.

  6. Just to inform you how we Filipinos (now citizens of Canada) get our passports renewed, first we go get our required 2 passport photos, next – go to the Canadian govt passport website, access the application form (in pdf) – fill it out right there on the screen – when satisfied it is correctly completed, date it, print it, sign it, take the completed application form, photos and old passport to the nearest passport center (there are 2 in the city of Calgary) get a priority number, go up to the counter when your number is up…tell the passport processing clerk how many years you want – 5 year passport is $120.00 A 10 year passport is $200.00 (you can choose to keep your old one — now voided)
    You will be told the new passport will be sent by registered mail to your mailing address in 9 days (actually took 7) that’s it! The whole process at the passport office took me just under an hour (including waiting in line)
    btw, the new Canadian passport look stunningly beautiful and are harder to forge.

    • you are lucky that the country where you reside has ‘thinking’ gov’t employees who want to do their jobs fast and efficient. here if would notice a lot of red tape is included in everything. yung madaling gawin ay pinahihirap. if i get you correctly, once you got your number, you only had to go to one counter to complete your transaction, here you have to go to different counters and fall in line again. i experienced the hassle free system when i applied for a driver’s license in america. there was only one line and the person who process your application completes the transaction and the only line you would go to is for picture taking.

    • Here in Azerbaijan you can have process your passport even Sunday they do work 7 days a week and you have choice from one day for 120 euro and pay for 50 euro for 14 days normal process. They do have each district a general service for any documentation working hours from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM and Sunday from 10:00 to 6:00 PM its only one roof processing center

    • Yes, it can be done similar to Canada or Australia where you can just go to the Post Office and apply for a passport and it will delivered by mail. I am sure that the Australian system now would be more efficient like Canada. PH should aim for a one-hour processing time!

      But what is really behind the long processing time is the sheer volume of applicants for passports: at least 2.0 million per year or 180,000 per month or 8,000 per day (5 days a week).Filipinos are leaving as OFWs or immigrants to North America, Europe, Australia & New Zealand.