I, together with my children, became citizens of United States by virtue of Naturalization last year. All five members of my family here missed travel to the Philippines to attend my Mother’s 75th birthday. We planned this celebration 5 months before her birthday. My frustration started when we applied for US Passports. It was April 29, 2007, when we went to the Post Office to get started. We paid expedited fee to get the passports within 2 to 3 weeks, that was according to the Department of State’s website and authorized Passport Agencies.
If that was true, then we could have gotten our passports one month prior to our travel date of June 29, 2007. My husband and stepson got their passport within 14 days of application.
As a requirement, I submitted the certified copy of my son’s birth certificate, which was the copy I submitted to INS 10 years ago. Two weeks after the application, someone from Norwalk Connecticut Passport Agency, Patricia, called me questioning the birth certificate I submitted. She also requested for new photos, which were mailed via over-night service the next day. Receipt of which was confirmed by her through a courtesy call.
Going back to the birth certificate, she concluded that it was a photocopy even though the National Statistics Office in the Philippines stamped it. I told her that my daughter, who is now twenty years old and also applying for Passport possesses a certified copy of birth certificate, which was stamped just like my son’s birth certificate. She instructed me to mail it and then she would let this case go.
That was probably May 14, 2007.
Since our expedited application took more than five weeks, I checked the application online.
Online status showed, “Your application is now under processed. You requested for routine application.” Therefore, my application went from expedited to routine. That was the first error there.
I was nerve-wracked. I needed to speak to someone at the Call Center immediately
However, if you would like to speak to a Call Center Customer Representative, the requirement is that you should be leaving within 14 days. If you need to make an automated appointment to Norwalk Passport Agency, your travel date should be within 14 days.
I waited and call on the day when it was exactly 14 days prior to my travel date.
When I made the automated appointment, the only day and time available was 3 days before my travel date. I was getting nervous already. I made the appointment to see someone at the Norwalk Passport Agency and started calling the Call Centers from June 15, 2007.
Every day, for two weeks, I called and spoke to different Customer Service Reps.
What were amazing were the different versions of the status of my application. I must have called 17 times during that 14- day window before you can speak to a Rep requirement. I was so delighted when in one of my several persistent calls, I spoke to a gentleman and told me our passports are ready to be mailed out. His exact words were, “I had goose bumps looking at the status.” I did not quite get what he meant by that. He added that I should call after two days to check again. After two days, 10 days before our departure, I called again with excitement to check. To my dismay, the lady on the other line told me that our passports were still under processed and that we were missing photos.
I told her about what the man told me two days ago and that the matter about the photos has long been resolved. She advised me to make an appointment with the Norwalk Passport Agency, which I already did. Before hanging up, adding to my already frustrated spirit, she told me that generally, it takes 10 to 12 weeks to get the passports. My argument that I paid for expedited service really did not matter anymore.
In June 25, 2007, a woman from Norwalk Passport Agency called me in the morning. She advised me to go the East Hampton Probate court, which is the nearest authorized Passport Agency, or to a Post Office to apply. She said, “Just tell whoever is going to take the application that you are bringing the form personally after filling out to Norwalk.”
Suddenly, I began to ask if these people at the Agency knew what they were talking about.
Did this woman check their system first before calling me? Did she know that we already applied five weeks ago and paid for expedited service?
June 26, 2007, my twenty-year old daughter took a day off from her work to join us for that hard-to-get appointment schedule with Norwalk Passport Agency. It was the much awaited and anticipated date. The last iota of hope for my son, my daughter and myself.
We arrived at Norwalk at 1:30PM. Our appointment was at 2PM.
The Agency watch person stopped us at the door but we were ushered in quickly after knowing that we have a 2PM appointment. I filled out a piece of paper with the information requested. It also required proof if you paid for expedited service. I was happy that I printed the canceled checks from the bank.
At 2:20, I asked the man in uniform watching over the people packed in approximately 30x30 square feet room if passports will be issued on the same day. According to him, passport pick-up time is 3PM. Worriedly, I told him that we have been waiting for almost an hour. I saw people who came after us were called in first. He assured us that our names would be called soon. He asked for my last name and headed towards the window in front of us. The woman at the window told him that someone was working on it.
Fifteen more minutes lapsed, 25 minutes before pick up time, I was relieved when a woman approached an empty window and called our last name. The smile on my face suddenly vanished when she could not do anything at that time. She emphasized that she has been e-mailing Manila for two months now. I did not know whom she was e-mailing. In her own words, “You know how Manila is.” The buck was passed on to Manila, whichever office she was dealing with
Before we left, my husband asked her if our application was processed through expedited service because we were just wondering why the Call Center and online status check website showed that our application went through routine service. She pointed at the paper she was holding. “It showed here you paid for expedited service,” she replied. Was this a case of error, omission or lie?
Combining ignorance with incompetence, she advised us to go to INS to get our Green Passports stamped. “You can still travel with that,” she added. Her name was Miss Figueroa.
Out of desperation, my daughter and I went the next day, June 27, 2007, to INS in Hartford, Connecticut. I requested the INS Officer to stamp my Green Passport. With a seemingly surprised look, she asked for our permanent resident cards. I told her that they were taken away when we were sworn in as Citizens of the US. She could not believe what she heard because we did not have business there anymore. We need Blue or US passports to travel. We should have known that. We tried out of desperation and frustration.
We left the INS building. My daughter and I were walking as if the whole world was on our shoulder. Our feet were heavy as we dragged them towards the parking area.
I called my husband and told him what happened. As soon as I got home, I went online and checked on the Philippines’ National Statistics Office website.
My thought was perhaps it would help if I could send the NSO direct contact information to the Passport Agency Call Center.
That was if Norwalk Passport Agency was trying to prove the veracity of the birth certificates. So I called the Call Center again on that same day and gave the person I talked to the link to the website where they can e-mail the person from NSO to verify the information.
My husband and I also sought the help of the offices of Senator Christopher Dodd and State Representative Joe Courtney.
A woman named Anita from Joe Courtney’s office tried hard to contact Norwalk and speed up the processing of our passports. Nevertheless, to no avail.
Two days are what we have.
Curiosity pushed me to chat again with the Call Center. I already memorized the numbers to press to bypass the recording. Press#1 for English; followed by #1 again if you are traveling within 14 days; then press# 0 for operator. Then, I was transferred to a live person. I told her about the whole story from the very beginning. She told me that I should have pressed #3 instead of #1 when prompted. I argued that I have been pressing the same series of numbers every time I called Call Center.
Anyway, she still transferred me to another Customer Service Rep. The man on the other line explained to me that the change in the telephone system was made because of the misinformation that other Reps were giving out to the public. In short, if you have applied and it was taking more than the promised date, then you are required to press #3 to get to a more competent person. Well, he talked as if he was more competent than the others were. At least, there was understanding and compassion to his tone. I was not sure if he helped at all. But I was happy by the way he handled my frustration. A woman I spoke with earlier that day even blamed for not marking my application form as expedited, which was the job of whoever was taking the applications at the Post Office.
Our travel date came. There was no sign of passports at the mailbox. We missed our trip. We have to pay cancellation of $287 per ticket. Multiply that by five. We lost almost $1500 of hard-earned money.
If you missed your trip, as in our case, and still would like to contact the Call Center to follow-up, the Rep will ask you what your travel date is.
I called the Center again in July. Because our travel date already elapsed, I could not give the Rep a travel date, which was the first question a Rep would ask. However, I made sure that I emphasized to her that we already missed the trip and that we were still waiting for the passports so we can book a flight soon. The Rep quizzically asked,” So you don’t have any travel date yet?”
Did these Customer Service Reps receive their degrees in the “Art of Aggravating People?
Did they think that people would book flights again after missing their trips without the Passports? Did the travel date really matter? Not at all.
And by the way, Call Center should change the message recording immediately.
It should eliminate the recording where it says, “If you are not traveling within 14 days, don’t worry. We hired staff to make sure you don’t miss your trip.”
It should say, “If you have not received your passports yet and it was taking longer than the expected, you really have to worry.” Because you may get not it on time.
It should also eliminate the promise of delivery within 2 to 3 weeks for expedited service and 10 to 12 weeks for routine service.
My son can travel with his Green Passport. My daughter and I could have traveled with Green Passports if we did not become Citizens of United States last year.
I was holding and looking at my Philippine passport as I was writing this. After all this mess, who would argue with me if I say, “Green is better than Blue.”