Losing ground: Unprocessed passport backlog crosses 0.25m


Chief Minister (5k+ posts)
DATED : 5/4/11


Tens of thousands of applicants are being forced to cancel their travel plans as the backlog of unprocessed passports across the country has hit 0.25 million for the first time.
The Directorate of Passports and Immigration (DOI) Islamabad claimed that it will take eight to ten more weeks to clear the four-month backlog which has accumulated due to faulty old printing machines. At present 11 machines with modern printers and laminars are functioning whereas five machines have been out of order for more than a year.
Senior DOI officials giving details to The Express Tribune said six new machines have been imported from Germany which will help in clearing the backlog of 55 regional passport offices and foreign missions within the next few weeks. A senior official is not so optimistic. There are around 0.15 million applications in the system at the moment and it is next to impossible for us to issue passports to all the applicants, he said. The present staff in immigration offices is not yet proficient in the use of the new imported machines which cost million of rupees to national exchequer, according to insiders. During a briefing given at the directorate, five directors admitted the fact that the current workload was more than their staff could handle.
Thousands of families leave for Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah, usually, in the months of Rabi-ul-Awwal and Rabi-us-Sani according to the Islamic calendar every year. Intending pilgrims may be seen waiting in long queues outside passport offices even as Rabi-us-Sani comes to an end, their travel plans ruined.
Interior Ministry officials have not yet acted on the PMs directive to install equipment for printing machine-readable passports (MRPs) in all the provincial headquarters to ease the backlog. Senior officials have asked the government to appoint new staff in foreign missions as well as regional offices to speed up the process. A tug of war among top passport officials for foreign postings has caused an unprecedented backlog for passport applicants in Pakistani missions. Officials revealed that over 2.5 million passports were issued to the citizens of Pakistan last year.
The National Database Registration Authority and the Directorate of Immigration Islamabad blame each other for the delay in the delivery of passports. However, Deputy Chairman NADRA Tariq Malik told The Express Tribune that there is no delay related to the verification of NICs for passports.
The effectiveness of MRPs aimed at the instant identification of bearers at the airports immigration counters is also challenged by the lack of technical expertise for technology acquired from the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2011.