DUBAI // Frustrated Filipinos are queueing outside their consulate in Al Qusais as early as 1am to secure a place for renewing their passports as a lack of consular resources and soaring demand for the service mean many are turned away each day.
Illegal "fixers" are also trying to cash in on the problem by extorting large amounts of money for places in a queue where only 30 walk-in applications are accepted each day.
Yesterday, more than 100 hopefuls arrived hours before the 8.30am opening time to try and secure one of the walk-in spots that are offered at 11am.
The backlog appears to have been building since late last year, as officials have struggled to serve a community of 400,000 Filipinos in Dubai and the Northern Emirates and keep up with the demands of producing new, electronic passports introduced last June.
The embassy in Abu Dhabi, which serves a smaller population of about 120,000, is not experiencing the same rush, and some Filipinos from Dubai and other emirates have even been travelling to the capital to avoid the situation in Dubai.
The new Philippine e-passport, which is compliant with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), incorporates face recognition technology to verify the identity of the passport holder and captures their fingerprints to comply with the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS).
The consulate is processing 200 applicants each day, with most of them securing appointments through an online system. However, those waiting yesterday claimed it took them several weeks to get an appointment. The new process requires passport applications to be sent to Manila, and it can take four to six weeks to renew passports.
Jean Noveno, 32, a secretary in Dubai, arrived at the consulate with her husband yesterday at 1am. "I slept on a chair," she said. "The security guard was kind enough to offer me the chair and a biscuit."
Wilfred Zamora, 28, a biomedical engineer in Dubai, arrived at 3.30am at the consulate to get his biometrics done. He was finished by about 3pm.
"Five people were already here, so we wrote down our names," he said. "It was only for reference, to avoid any chaos. Only 30 will be accepted as walk-in applicants at 11am."
Outside the consulate, enterprising Filipinos sold food to those waiting, including full meals and native delicacies such as cassava cake. A note in Tagalog was posted, warning against "fixers". It said there were no consular representatives or agents outside the consulate.
Several of those waiting said they had been approached by fellow Filipinos offering a chance to jump the queue in exchange for fees ranging from Dh200 to Dh350. "On Monday, one man approached me saying he could get me an appointment for Dh200," said Rosalie Dumaboc, 35, a housemaid for an Emirati family in Mirdiff. "This is my third attempt to get a passport. At 6am today, another fixer tried to offer the same service, which I declined."
Ms Dumaboc, who earns Dh900 a month, spent Dh150 travelling to and from the consulate over three days this week.
On any given weekday, the Philippine consulate in Dubai is receiving 200 passport renewal applications from Filipinos in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, and staff are working flat out to keep up with the demand, said Benito Valeriano, the consul general in Dubai.
"I don't blame them," he said, referring to the growing frustration of Filipinos renewing their passports. "But we only have three machines and a spare one in case one of them bogs down. We are also understaffed. Even my deputy, [the] vice consul Edwin Mendoza, helps encode the details of the applicants, along with four of our staff."
Mr Valeriano estimated that he would need 10 machines to cope with demand, even though there would be no place to put them in the small consulate. The consulate prioritised those with appointments for passport renewals, which are granted 30 to 40 days after they are applied for, he said. "Not all will show up, so we allow walk-in applicants who would like to take their chances," he said.
Rowena Penilla, 46, a human resources adviser in Dubai who has lived in the UAE for 22 years, said many Filipinos were not aware of the online appointment for passport renewals and complained about a lack of information in general. She encountered the queues when trying to renew her son's passport during the first week of November. The following week she asked for an appointment online, getting one for January 13.
"The process was very slow," she said. "They should realise that people are also working, with many Filipinos travelling all the way from other emirates to avail of their services."
Mrs Penilla said she was also approached by individuals outside the consulate's gates, offering to secure an earlier appointment in exchange for a fee. "One of them approached our nanny," she said. "But we told them we got it online."
A 25-year-old Filipina secretary in Dubai, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she gave in and paid Dh350 to avoid the hassle of returning to the consulate the next day. "It's not supposed to be that way," she said. "There must be a system to renew our passports without people going through this misery."
Woman takes her place in line with people who were there ‘at midnight’
DUBAI // Rosalie Hernandez-Scott, 33, began queuing in front of the Philippine consulate’s gate at 4am yesterday.
Her passport is due to expire in April, so she decided to try her luck as a walk-in applicant, instead of waiting for the February 28 appointment she secured online.
“When I got to the consulate, I was the 16th person in the queue,” she said. “There were people who were already there at midnight. We prepared a list, which wasn’t honoured.”
A note on the gate said that as of February 1 only the first 30 walk-in applicants would be accommodated, at 11am.
“The system is not very organised,” Mrs Hernandez-Scott said. “A staff member who was managing the appointments for passport renewal simply ignored our list. We were just trying to help avoid chaos among the walk-in applicants.”
The travel co-ordinator who has worked in Dubai for the past six years said she had no choice but to endure a process that took almost 12 hours.
“I’m supposed to go on holiday to the UK this March,” she said. “But my new passport will be released after four to six weeks.”
She said the consulate should understand that people are working and many relied on public transport to get to the consulate.
Mrs Hernandez-Scott lives with her family in Victoria Heights, a half-hour drive to the consulate in Al Qusais.
“I can manage my time, but how about the rest, with strict employers? They would need to take a day off to do this. And I’ve heard of people who spend a fortune on taxis just to get here.”
She left the consulate at 3.30pm, application submitted, but said five of the 30 Filipinos who were in her group were turned away and asked to return on Sunday.
“But they do not have an appointment,” she said. “I really feel bad for them.”
Length of time to secure a passport
Philippines – four to six weeks
India - five working days
United States - two weeks
Pakistan - eight days
Singapore - one day
Canada - 21 days
Britain - must apply through regional office in Germany