Immigration Department hit by passport shortage

Applicants waiting for their turn at the immigration office at the Home Ministry Complex in Jalan Duta last month. Many had travel plans disrupted following a service glitch. — Malay Mail pic
Applicants waiting for their turn at the immigration office at the Home Ministry Complex in Jalan Duta last month. Many had travel plans disrupted following a service glitch. — Malay Mail pic

PETALING JAYA, June 16 — The Immigration Department, already in a fix following the sabotage of the Malaysian Immigration System (myIMMs), is facing a serious shortage of new passports nationwide with Penang, Perak and Johor the worst hit.

Sources said the department was  struggling to cope with demand as it did not have sufficient stock of passports. 

This was due to a large number of chips used in the data page of passports being rejected by the National Printing Department (NPD) or Immigration Department for being damaged or failing to meet standards.

Department director-general Datuk Sakib Kusmi had said on May 15 that several offices issuing passports nationwide would be closed as the Immigration Department installed new safety features for its international passports.

A source said the shortage of passports was critical, especially in Penang, Perak and Johor. 

“It started before the school holidays last month and caused an inconvenience to  applicants. With the festive season and another school holiday next month followed by the Haj season, it will be a difficult period for those intending to apply or renew passports,” he said.

The department issues some 220,000 passports on average per month. It is understood it only received 160,000 passports between April 15 and early this month, creating a backlog in issuance and renewal of passports.

“NPD rejected more than 40,000 data pages within that period,” he said.

NPD’s role is to produce the passport. The department will print passport booklets and later integrate the E-data page,  known as the bio-data polycarbonate data page, supplied to them by a third party. 

Among problems often cited were damaged chips, cosmetic damage of the data page and manufacturing defects.

“There were also a huge number of passports rejected by the Immigration Department as they were not up to standard,” he added.

Another source said one of the major passport issuing offices in Kuala Lumpur had rejected more than 400  out of 4,107 passports delivered last month. 

The source added the issuing offices “were forced to be a little lenient with the quality of passports” as books with “minimal defects” were issued.  

Malaysians carrying the defective passports had run into problems as their travel documents could not be read by immigration electronic systems at airports.

Home Ministry secretary-general Datuk Seri Alwi Ibrahim did not respond to queries on the matter. However, Sakib had in a statement to Malay Mail yesterday in an apparent response to questions directed to Alwi, said the closing of offices was not due to the shortage of passport and that the department had issued 206,716 passports since May.

The statement added Malaysian passports met requirements of the International Civil of Aviation Organisation standards.

The Immigration Department has come under scrutiny in recent weeks after Malay Mail had on May 18, reported that the myIMMS system at KLIA had been sabotaged, leaving the country vulnerable to monitor foreigners entering the country. The damning revelation led to the sacking, suspension and transfer of over 100 immigration personnel.

Police had also arrested several immigration personnel over the fiasco.

Last month, Malay Mail also reported long lines were seen at immigration offices nationwide following service disruptions.

Sources in the department had then said the disruptions were expected to continue until the middle of this month. From a matter of hours, applicants were forced to wait for a week for passports to be issued.

“There are teething problems with the international Malaysian passports being fitted with the polycarbonate chips. We expect the problem to be resolved by the end of this month.

“However, this is just one of several issues, including an over-burdened operating system used on the department’s computers,” the source was quoted then as saying.

* For more on this exposé, read Malay Mail Afternoon E-Paper today.