From Covid-19 closures to limited appointment slots and even technical glitches in recent months, the Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles has faced backlash from constituents -- many raising concerns over Philippine passport renewals.
Now, the consulate, which serves over a million Filipinos in Southern California, Southern Nevada, and Arizona, has a solution to the limited passport appointments: they will be opening up a Philippine Passport Renewal Center (PaRC) operated by VFS Global, a third-party company that processes passports for 62 countries. The Center is projected to open this month in Beverly Hills, in what will be the first PaRC in the U.S.
"What we have done is to add VFS Global to our range of services so that you will have the option whether you still want to go through the appointment system of the consulate using the global appointment system or you'd rather go through VFS Global except that you will be paying a certain mark up fee because the VFS global is a third-party service provider," Philippine Consul General Edgar Badajos explained.
VFS Global has worked with the Philippines since 2019 when it opened up a PaRC in Jeddah. "The opening of a PaRC or passport renewal service in LA is just the continuation of a service contract that the DFA entered into back with VFS Global back in 2019 to provide overseas Filipinos with alternative offsite locations for simple non complex passport renewals," Badajos said.
Since 2019, appointments at U.S. Philippine consulates had been required for passport services, dual citizenship, and notary services which all require physical presence and biometrics. Appointment slots were released monthly by the Global Appointment System, but with demand high, appointments had become difficult to secure.
From March to June of 2020, the consulate had to suspend in-person operations due to the Covid-19 pandemic. When the consulate reopened in June of 2020, the number of appointments were limited from about 100 a day to 24. Further creating the backlog, consulate outreach services were suspended, and had only resumed recently. However, services have continued to increase, with daily appointments now up to 132 slots per day. In addition, the consulate is now open on Saturdays as well.
"What we’re trying to do is not to do away with the demand but to able to catch up to the demand," Vice Consul General Ambrosio Enciso pointed out. "We won’t be able to tell how many more needs at a certain time so our goal is to always increase our capacity."
Working under the Philippine government's supervision, VFS will only process simple passport renewals. VFS will also give clients a chance to track the progress of their applications.
As a third-party provider, their services do come with an extra $52 service fee on top of the $60 Philippine passport cost. VFS Global Head Sulani Yashpal said, "as the need and the demand grows, we have that flexibility to expand. We will have a native language speaker onsite at all times to assist. You will have flexible payment options."
An exact date for when VFS will open has not yet been finalized, but when the physical office does open shop, it will also launch its own website where applicants can book their appointment.