With the back-to-normal mode of most states in the U.S., operations at the San Francisco Philippine Consulate General (SFPCG) have been correspondingly adjusted in response to the different consular needs of Filipinos that really have been continually sought for even during the pandemic.
In an email interview with the SFPCG staff under the leadership of Consul-General Neil Ferrer, it was learned that the number of clients for each of the services – dual citizenship, passport application, extension and renewal, travel documents, among others – are almost back to normal with the passport renewal and reacquisition of Philippine citizenship or “Dual Citizenship” being the most needed consular services at present.
Because of the prevailing pandemic and existing local health and safety protocols, however, consular services are by appointment only but they continue to accommodate applicants with emergency or urgent cases.
As of 10 May, the SFPCG experienced a large number of applicants for passport and dual citizenship as expected. The Consulate, in return, copes by constantly adjusting its work arrangements according to the needs of a given period/ time.
One manifestation of these adjustments is that SFPCG started to increase the allotment of appointments as vaccinations are rolled out quite massively and efficiently, especially here in California although they still, more importantly, observe health protocols at the Consulate, including temperature checks and online health check-ins for their personnel. It should also be noted that almost all their personnel have been able to avail themselves of vaccines for their own protection as they deal with those coming from different places every day.
The Consulate is working at full capacity as all personnel are working full-time every day, whether at home or in the office, and even during weekends. In terms of in-person services, however, only 50% of the workforce report for work at the Consulate, but with more than 90% of the output of pre-pandemic levels.
The Consulate tries to accommodate as many clients as they have in their appointment management system as they have also been doing Saturday consular services, which they have done for two Saturdays each month since March 2021, to accommodate additional applicants and those in need of immediate assistance or have an urgent need for consular services.
The Consulate also announced that they are also resuming consular outreach services soon, beginning with the 3-5 June outreach to Colorado and have launched a new user-friendly, updated and more secure website and appointment system. They are also preparing for the installation of a new telephone system.
“The number of clients being serviced by the Consulate depends, to a certain extent, on the prevailing local health and safety protocols at a given time, particularly on the prescribed operational capacity and maximum occupancy limitations. It is also affected by the conditions prevailing back home. The number of clients per service varies with every change in the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) regulation,” ConGen Ferrer explained.
Ferrer cited that when balikbayans are not allowed entry to the Philippines, applications for dual citizenship increase while the dual citizenship application number decline when regulations ease up.
Similarly, when formerly visa-free nationals are required to obtain visas, even those with Filipino spouses, parents, or children, visa applications increase tremendously. Applications for passport extension and travel documents also increase when applicants with emergency cases are not able to wait for their new passports to be issued.
“One thing that the pandemic probably has taught Filipinos, especially those who still maintain ties with the Philippines, is the need to always be travel-ready, i.e., by ensuring that they are able to show proof of their Filipino citizenship, through possession of a Philippine passport, Dual Citizenship documents, passport validity extension or Travel Document,” Ferrer shared.
At the onset of the pandemic, the challenges faced by the Consulate had to do with (a) complying with local health and safety orders while addressing the demand for consular services; (b) timely delivery of critical information to the public (re-entry regulations and COVID-related policies and procedures in the Philippines) while the Consulate was closed due to shelter-in-place orders for about four months last year; (c) communicating to the clients and the public regarding appointment cancellations and reinstatement due to shelter in place orders; (d) addressing complaints from the public due to travel restrictions to the Philippines and (d) ensuring the health and safety of personnel and the transacting public and all these the Consulate had to act on while following health and safety orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Another response was the availability of telephone numbers/lines and encouragement that the public send email inquiries for their questions and concerns regarding consular matters.
To streamline the movement of people at the Consulate and to better help them navigate the consular processes, the Consulate also has an Information Officer stationed at the lobby who also screens the documents of applicants after the applicants go through temperature and security checks.
To help people going to the consulate be informed right at the entry to the Consulate, screens that note the applicant number and determine the turn of applicants when they should approach the counters and have their documents processed have been installed.
As to the response in the Consulate’s campaign to have the delivery of Moderna be advanced to benefit our kababayans back home, the Consulate is grateful for the strong support of the Filipino American communities in the United States to help the Philippines’ vaccination program.
“The Philippines is coordinating closely with Moderna to ensure that everything is in order for the initial delivery of close to 250,000 doses of the company’s vaccine. The first shipment is expected to arrive in June. The bulk of the 20 million doses ordered will be delivered in several batches in Q3 and Q4 2021. The Philippine Embassy in Washington DC continues to engage Moderna and the U.S. government for the possible earlier delivery of a portion of the Philippine order,” Ferrer gleefully announced.