DUBAI // The Philippine consulate is looking for IT experts in its community to design a passport-appointment system that will help to clear a backlog, preferably for free.
"There have been no takers so far," said Frank Cimafranca, the new consul general in Dubai. "We hope they can do the job on a voluntary basis."
Once a new system is in place the consulate may ask Manila for an extra staff member to oversee it, Mr Cimafranca said.
In November last year, the consulate tried to hire a Dubai company to manage the system.
"They provided us with some proposals which we reviewed," Mr Cimafranca said.
"However, they wanted us to collect the service fees for them and the amount was quite substantial, among other concerns. So we're back to the drawing board."
As it stands, Filipinos make appointments using the consulate's Facebook page PCG Dubai and N. Emirates. Others email email@example.com, while the rest visit the consulate in Al Qusais.
Officers plan to run special sessions at the consulate and in Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah on a weekend, to clear some of the backlog.
The Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi does not have an online-appointment system either. Walk-in applicants are accepted on a "first come, first served" basis.
Some Filipinos from Dubai and the Northern Emirates are travelling to the capital to avoid the situation in Dubai.
"We have no problem with it," Mr Cimafranca said. "Those who have the time and resources can go to the embassy."
But he said the present system at the consulate was cumbersome.
"It's not automated and we do not have a dedicated staff to manage it," Mr Cimafranca said.
"So many emails and messages are coming in and it's difficult to filter them."
If an applicant books an appointment now, a date will be set for mid-February.
Every day three consular staff have been working flat out, processing up to 280 applications.
The process involves encoding all details and taking the biometrics of an applicant. Applications are sent to Manila and back, which takes up to one month.
"We'd like to know how many are applying on a daily basis," Mr Cimafranca said.
"It's seasonal. It can be fewer than 200 but the number can surge to more than 400 in a single day."
Consulate officials have already requested three more machines.
"We're stretching our limits and trying to optimise the use of the three machines," Mr Cimafranca said. "When Filipinos flock to the consulate to renew their passports, we can't tell them to return. That's our predicament."