PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian High Commission in Canberra says the relaxation of interstate and international travel restrictions caused the number of new applications or renewals for passports by Malaysians in Australia to increase exponentially, resulting in extended waiting times for appointments.
Second Secretary (Head of Chancery) Hoo Yip Soon said the sudden spike in applications placed immense pressure on the Immigration offices.
He said under normal circumstances, the offices in Melbourne, Perth and Canberra would have a processing capacity of less than 10,000 international passports annually.
“The plan to conduct more passport mobile programmes has also been hampered by interstate travel restrictions. Plans are afoot to conduct more of these programmes, subject to a Covid 19-safe situation and manpower capacity.
“The programme allows for backlog reduction and prioritisation for applicants with urgent needs, such as an emergency that requires them to return to Malaysia.
“This includes the two-year extension for Malaysians who need a valid passport to apply for visas or other related reasons,” he said in an email reply to The Star.
The Star reported last week that many Malaysians in Melbourne were frustrated over not being able to renew their expiring passports.
Some with passports expiring early next year claimed they were told that the only available slots for passport renewals at the Malaysian consulate there were in December 2022, forcing some of them to apply for emergency permits to fly home to renew their passports.
Hoo added that the Immigration team in Melbourne is struggling to cope with the surge of applications for passport renewals.
“In the initial phase, applications were made through email. However, as the numbers kept on increasing, the turnaround time to respond to each of these emails inadvertently grew exponentially.
“There were numerous instances when officers had to sort through duplicate applications from the same person or replying multiple times to the same person to sort out missing or wrong attachments, subsequently compromising on their ability to respond to other inquiries.
“Appointment dates have stretched as far as October next year,” he explained.
It is learnt that the Immigration has only one passport machine in Melbourne, where the problem is most acute, and just two officers in Melbourne, two in Perth and one in Canberra to process applications.
Meanwhile, a Facebook page started for Malaysians to check on the passport, travel and border restriction issues in Australia has attracted 108,000 followers.
Through diverse e-community support, the page helps to deal with and clarify travel-related issues, and members help each other by sharing their experiences and the information that they have.