Wednesday, April 27, 2011
CONSULAR OUTREACH INCREASING DUE TO E-PASSPORT REQUIREMENTS
Stringent rules for electronic passports have forced Philippine consular officials across America to travel greater distances and for longer periods to reach out to Filipinos.
The challenge is especially acute for the Washington DC jurisdiction because it spans tens of thousands of square miles south of the capital, from America ’s Sunbelt all the way to the Caribbean islands.
“Starting in 2007 when we started issuing machine-readable passports and 2009 when we started issuing electronic passports which both require personal appearances, we had to conduct more outreach services,” explained Washington DC Consul General Domingo “Ding” Nolasco.
The number of outreach events increased from 4 in 2006 to 11 last year. For the first three months of 2011, Nolasco said they’ve already done 5 outreach events in Virginia Beach; Montgomery , Alabama ; Buford , Georgia ; and Tampa , Florida . They’re scheduled to be in Havelock, North Carolina at the end of the month.
Unlike the old passports that can be filled out by mail, applicants for e-passports have to be physically present to have their photographs taken and for capturing biometric information. Just last week, Nolasco revealed, over a hundred applicants trooped to the Washington DC Consulate, setting a new record.
But when they go on outreach missions, work at the Consulate slows down because they have to bring along pieces of equipment for processing e-passports. Nolasco tells the Manila Mail that they have 2 portable sets that can capture data from up to 45 applicants within an 8-hour period. It takes 7 to 10 minutes to process each application.
However, server capacity that allows all that information to be fed instantaneously to Manila is limited. The e-passports are produced by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas printing office, the same facility that turns out the country’s money, and flown to the US by diplomatic pouch.
“The outreach is added load on our staff,” Nolasco explained. “They work from Monday to Friday and when there’s an outreach, they have to give up their weekends and time with their family.” That is why, he added, he insists staffers volunteer for the outreach work.
Outreaches always involve long road trips because the government can’t afford to pay for plane tickets. To get to Tampa , for instance, they had to drive more than 18 hours. “We used to take the plane to Florida but to save cost and ensure the safety of the machines and documents we carry, we’ve opted to travel by land instead,” Nolasco averred.
And getting to their destinations can sometimes be the least of their worries. “Community organizations that help us with the outreach sometimes insist on inserting their friends and relatives in the queue. Personally, I feel sorry that we can not accommodate all the people that come to the outreach sites,” he lamented.
He also rued about people who refuse to get in line or don’t even want to speak Tagalog or treat the consulate staff in a “condescending manner”.
Still, there are many advantages to outreach work, Nolasco admitted. “Aside from the consular service, we are able to register more Filipinos for overseas absentee voting, promote tourism in the Philippines and brief contract workers on their rights and privileges.”
More importantly, they get huge satisfaction from knowing they’ve somehow eased the burden of Filipinos who would otherwise have to make the trek to Washington DC .
Nolasco said the machines they have is sufficient for the meantime. “If we add more portable machines then we have to add more staff for weekend duty,” he explained.
“This is service beyond the call of duty for our staff,” he stressed