The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) of the Philippines announced its readiness to return to pre-pandemic levels of visa processing, with the capacity to issue over 1 million visas annually as global travel restrictions due to COVID-19 continue to relax. During a press briefing on Wednesday, DFA Office of Consular Affairs Visa Section Director Leilani Feliciano highlighted the country's achievement in 2019 of issuing at least 1.62 million visas to foreign tourists and travelers.
According to Philippines News Agency, the dramatic decline in visa issuances in the years following 2019 was directly attributable to the pandemic's impact on international travel. In 2020, the number of visas issued plummeted to 159,440, with a further decrease to 82,260 in 2021. However, there was a modest recovery in 2023, with 217,265 visas issued, thanks in part to the efforts of Philippine Embassies and Consulates in China, India, and Dubai.
The DFA also mentioned the ongoing reassessment of the e-Visa program in China, particularly focusing on its payment system, after its suspension last year for improvements. No specific date has been provided for the resumption of this service.
In addition to visa services, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo reported on the broad improvements being made to consular services within the Philippines. The DFA is working towards returning appointment capacities for services such as passports and apostille to pre-pandemic levels within the year. At DFA-Aseana, the daily volume of appointments for passports and apostille services each stands at 1,200.
Globally, from January to December 2023, the DFA has made available a total of 4,180,677 passport appointment slots, enhancing accessibility for Filipinos both domestically and abroad. The processing times for new passports have also been reduced, with expedited processing now taking five days and regular processing taking ten days in the National Capital Region, and 12 days for the rest of the country.
Additionally, Secretary Manalo announced the opening of four new consular offices in 2023 in Antique, Candon, Balanga, and Olongapo, along with the extension of full apostille services to two consular offices in the Visayas and Mindanao.
DFA Undersecretary for Civilian Security and Consular Affairs Jesus Domingo emphasized the effort to simplify passport services while ensuring proper issuance. The DFA is collaborating with various security agencies and plans to sign a memorandum of agreement to maintain the integrity of the Philippine passport. This comes in the wake of concerns raised by Senator Ronald dela Rosa regarding non-Filipinos obtaining Philippine passports and birth certificates.