Renewing Philippine passports coursed through outsourcing companies in eight cities in the Middle East, Europe, Asia and the US now costs between P4,900 and P5,300, and OFW advocates in Italy are complaining that they could not afford it.
The Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed the additional costs that would be charged to OFWs who would renew their passports in a number of embassies and consulates via outsourced companies but application to these companies is only “optional and voluntary.”
The Italy chapter of Ako OFW party-list criticized the Philippine Embassy in Rome for “relinquishing its duty to process the passports” to outsourcing company, the BLS International Company.
According to the November 11 advisory of the Philippine Embassy in Rome, Filipinos who opt to renew their passports via BLS International will be charged 35 Euros (P1,993) for convenience fee, and 4.5 Euros (P256) for revolving fund. This will be in addition to the regular charge of passport renewal of 54 Euro (P3,075), thus the total cost of passport renewal would be 93.5 Euro (P5,324).
“Instead of passing the buck to a third party to handle the passport processing the embassy should have just hired additional personnel to handle passport renewals and avoid the additional charges that is being charged by the passport center located in the heart of Rome,” Josephine Borja Duque, country chairperson of the AKO-OFW party-list chapter in Italy, said in a news statement.
DFA Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Senen Mangalile clarified that the e-Passport Renewal Center (PARC) offered to OFWs are “optional” and “voluntary.”
“Our embassies and consulates will continue to accept applications for renewal,” Mangalile told the BusinessMirror.
When reached for comment, BLS International said the Philippine Embassy in Rome hired their services “to face the administrative process of the application” brought about the “difficulties in managing such a high amount of applicants.”
“As we are a private company we charge 35 Euro for administrative fees plus 2 Euro of SMS service. The renewal of the passport fee is 58.50 Euro as decided by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines government and goes directly to the Philippine Embassy,” BLS International explained.
Aside from Rome, the DFA has also opened PARC program at the Philippine embassies and consulates in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in UAE, Riyadh and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, Doha in Qatar, Los Angeles in California, USA, and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia starting 2019.
“We’re finding ways to increase capacity and offer more passport appointment slots to the public. One way we can do that is through the PARC program,” he explained.
The outsourced company in UAE, Saudi Arabia and LA is Visa Facilitation Services (VFS) Global. BLS handles passport renewals in Doha, Qatar and in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
In UAE, passport renewal convenience fee charged by VFS Global is AED 91.75 (P1,266.93) and passport revolving fund is AED 20 (P276). Regular passport renewal costs AED 240 (3,314). Total cost for passport renewals in UAE—around AED 351 (P4,856).
Passport renewal convenience fee charged by VFS Global in Riyadh and Jeddah, meanwhile, is a little bit higher compared to UAE—i.e., SAR 103 (P1,391). With passport revolving fund pegged at SAR 20 (P270) and regular passport renewal at SAR 240, the cost of passport renewal through VFS Global in Saudi Arabia is SAR 363 (P4,905.11).
VFS service fee in Los Angeles is $45 (P2,250) and does not charge for revolving fund. Regular renewal fee is (P3,250).
Meanwhile, the total cost for the renewal of passports in Qatar via BLS is QR 351 (P4,889)—broken down to convenience fee of QR 91 (P1,267), revolving fund of QR 20 (P278.59) and regular passport fee of QR 240 (P3,343).
OFWs in Malaysia, meanwhile, pay MR425 or (P5,144) if they opt to apply to BLS Malaysia. BLS is charging RM 113 (P1,367), plus passport revolving fee RM 24 (P290.50), and passport renewal of RM 288 (P3,486).
Mangalile said these PARCs are only allowed to accept “simple renewal applications.”
The “more complicated” passport applications such as those who applied for the first time, lost passport, and change in surnames due to marriage will be “processed exclusively by our embassies and consulates,” he added.
OFW Advocate and migration expert Emmanuel Geslani, likewise said he is worried about the “secrecy of the data” of OFWs in Italy shared to BLS.
The DFA has yet to issues its comment on handling of the data of Filipino applicants who applied via third party.