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Foreign Ministry Takes Steps To Tackle Lao Passport Debacle

Source: The Star

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs plans to send staff to provincial branches to interview passport applicants locally, in a bid to reduce the long lines that form outside the Consular Department in Vientiane each morning.

The ministry also plans to increase the number of applications accepted every day by having staff work overtime so they can conduct more interviews.

The Consular Department’s Deputy Director General, Sisouphanh Manivanh, said there has been a surge in passport applications since the government reopened the country for international travel in January.

In response, the ministry has asked officials to process applications after and before normal working hours, as it expects to receive 500 applications each week, up from about 300 a week in previous years.

People have been getting up at the crack of dawn to join the queue outside the Consular Department. The rush started on May 9 when the government lifted all travel restrictions, along with several other countries.

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The department has been slow to issue passports because officials are expediting issuance only in the case of an emergency, such as people with a hospital certificate who urgently need to travel abroad for treatment.

Sisouphanh apologised for the slow service and urged people in the provinces of Oudomxay, Xieng Khuang, Xayaboury and Khammuan to apply at provincial consular departments.

He also said people should be wary of brokers who claim to be able to assist with the processing of personal documents and to expedite passport issuance in Vientiane.

The ministry is looking at setting up an online queuing system. It has also completed the draft of a passport law and legislation around the consultation process at the central level. Plans for the northern and central provinces will be formulated by the end of this week

The Consular Department is developing an online interview appointment platform and has completed a draft passport law that will be presented to the National Assembly for consideration at the end of this year.

The law spells out the principles, regulations and measures in managing and monitoring the processing of passports, with the aim of ensuring the process is accurate, clear, fast, modern and systematic, to uphold Lao citizens’ rights with regard to freedom of travel.