The government through the Department of Vanuatu Immigration Services (VIS) has appointed passport officers in four countries. Appointments were made in accordance to the Immigration Act.
Director of VIS, Jeffery Markson said the appointments were done following the demand of interested individuals under the Citizenship program.
VIS is an important partner in the implementation of the program. VIS prints passports for interested individuals who have become citizens of the Republic of Vanuatu under the program.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Immigration officers would travel overseas and issue the passports to the applicants, in person. This was to ensure the photo on the passports matches the applicants. Passports are State properties. Importantly, this was to ensure the integrity of Vanuatu’s passport booklets are protected, and at the same time avoid complications.
Since the pandemic, the citizenship program continued as the government needed the funds to support service delivery throughout the country. Director Markson admitted it has become a challenge for his office to issue the passports due to border lockdown.
Passports that were printed from February until July were not issued and the government started to receive complaints from clients that have applied for the passports. According to the VIS boss, some of the applicants were requesting for refunds of their money.
Another challenge was how to send the passport booklets to the applicants and maintaining the integrity of the passport booklets. The Department resorted to Vanuatu’s foreign missions. Passports were sent to the diplomatic missions overseas where the booklets were collected by respective applicants. But not all applicants originated from countries where the foreign missions are based. Markson said they recruited four passport officers but the number is expected to increase.
Amongst the countries are Dubai and Nigeria. They have appointed an officer based in Hong Kong because the Vanuatu’s diplomat based in Hong Kong is currently in the country. Consultations with stakeholders of VIS were conducted before the decision was approved and finalised. Appointments of the passport officers were not done by the director of VIS. Their appointment was done by the Public Service Commission based on recommendations of the Director and Director General of Internal Affairs.
These passport officers are appointed on contracts which will lapse by the end of December, 2020.
The passport officers have agreed after consultations with VIS that they would not be paid any salaries, but, they could charge an amount not exceeding USD1,000. This is considered a service fee for the task placed on them.
The officers are required to provide monthly reports on their works. Director Markson affirmed that the department would be monitoring the passport officers’ works, and should there be any arising issues, it would be the responsibility of the department to terminate the contracts of the people concerned. VIS has the control of the process of passport deliveries.
Markson said the Department of Immigration have been working closely with four appointed officers. Due diligence checks were conducted to ensure the officers have no criminal records or issues of interest.