x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Group helps Filipinos skip queue for passports

Instead of waiting months for appointment, they can start application process at an event organised to assist Dubai consulate.

DUBAI // Filipinos frustrated by months of problems in obtaining new passports now have a chance to fast-track the process.

Applications for the country's new e-passports have to be sent to Manila and returned in a process that takes up to six weeks. The consulate in Dubai has struggled to keep up with demand and many Filipinos are forced to wait months for an appointment.

Now the non-profit Trainings and Opportunities for Pinoys Abroad (Tropa) is working with the consulate to run special sessions to clear some of the backlog.

The next session, on October 28, will allow 120 Filipinos to apply, in the third such event.

Since the Philippines introduced electronic passports in June last year, officials have struggled to keep up with the demand from the 400,000 Filipinos in Dubai and the Northern Emirates.

Three consular staff have been working flat-out processing about 160 applications a day, but a backlog has been building since late last year.

By January and February, people were queuing at the consulate's gates as early as midnight for a place near the front of the line.

Appointments can be made in advance but they are not available for months.

"If one tries to get an appointment online now, he or she can apply for a passport on December 4," said Edwin Mendoza, the vice-consul at the Philippine consulate in Dubai.

Priority for walk-in applicants is given to those who need passports urgently.

"We accept applications from pregnant women, children and those who need to fly on the same day," Mr Mendoza said. "We can extend the validity of their old passports for two years but they have to apply for a new e-passport."

To avoid the delay, some Filipinos from Dubai and the Northern Emirates have travelled to the capital.

Among them was Brian Tayag, 31, who works at an insurance company in Dubai, but he was "frustrated and disappointed" after a visit to the embassy in May.

"I knew it would take weeks to get an appointment at the consulate so I travelled to the embassy, but I was asked to return after a week," Mr Tayag said.

Instead, he went to a Tropa-organised application session a few days later and received his new passport in August.

"It's a relief that I was able to get it," Mr Tayag said. "I didn't have to be absent from work and get a cut in my salary."

The group began running the Friday sessions in March.

"We hope to reach out to more Filipinos," said Wilma Villanueva, the president of Tropa.

"We want to make the service accessible to them and enjoy the convenience of renewing their passports on a Friday."

The October 28 session, to be held at the consulate in Al Qusais, will also enable Filipinos to secure overseas employment certificates, which they need to return to the UAE after a holiday in the Philippines.

There will be free health checks and a brief talk on financial literacy.

Filipinos have until this Friday to sign up for the October 28 session, by e-mailing rexmaray@yahoo.com or at tropauae.com.

rruiz@thenational.ae