PUTRAJAYA: The surge in demand for international passports in the wake of borders reopening early last year had the Immigration Department working seven long days a week while trying to meet the needs of the public.
Despite the department’s earnest approach in tackling the issue, its director-general Datuk Seri Khairul Dzaimee Daud revealed that eventually, the increase in cost hindered their efforts.
This was due to the overtime claims paid to officers working until 10pm every day and during the weekends in the following four months last year after the announcement was made by the government, he said.
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“We knew there would be a surge in passport applications after the borders reopened, causing the long queues.
“As such, we extended our operations hours up to 10pm every day at the 73 passport offices and were also open on weekends to cope with the demand from the crowd,” he told The Star.
As a result of the high operating cost incurred by the department, they had to scale back to normal hours and an online appointment system (STO), Khairul Dzaimee said.
He added that claims made against the department on not taking pre-emptive measures were unfounded.
“At the Putrajaya Immigration Office alone, the daily number of passport applications is between 500 and 600, which is three times higher than before the pandemic. The counters are going through the numbers non-stop,” he explained.
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To address the issue on cost, Khairul Dzaimee said the department had received RM10mil in added allocation from Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to pay for overtime, which would allow them to operate with extended hours and days.
“Presently, the overcrowding issue at passport offices has dwindled. From what you can see, there are no longer long queues because we have taken action to address the issue head on,” he added.
On backlogs, Khairul Dzaimee explained that last year, there were 16,000 backlogs for Malaysians in Singapore alone.
In light of this, a satellite office in Johor was set up to handle the situation, whereby the passports were printed and subsequently handed over to those in Singapore.
“We had also set up the Online Passport Operation Centre to centralise all online applications in Putrajaya through a task force.
“Through this, we have seen the number of backlogs since Oct 11, 2022, reduced from 6,000 applications to 1,500. But not everyone is tech savvy, so some may not prefer our online passport application system,” he said.
He also revealed that about 60% of passport applicants did not have any immediate travel plans and were just renewing so that they could have it on standby in the case of an emergency.
Many of those who urgently needed to travel were last-minute applicants, he said.
“The thing people need to understand is that a passport is an official security document, which goes through six official IDs from the moment you are at the counter, to processing, printing and handing over.
“We have to double check everything. The machine to print it also has limitations. Should we want to increase, we would have to negotiate with vendors. So, there are a lot of variables involved,” he added.
Even though people had to wait longer, he pointed out that Malaysians continued to receive their international passport every day, so there was no shortage in supply.
On the projection of passport stock, Khairul Dzaimee said it was about 250,000 for every month and that roughly every year, between 2.5 million and 2.9 million would expire.
He said the department had 14,800 staff members and were divided into operations, control and management divisions.
“We would also like to stress that the department does not only take action when someone in a higher position points it out. That is untrue.
“We have to serve the public and we will continue to do our best,” he added.