According to chief executive officer of the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA) Andrew Wynter, work has already started on the implementation of what would be a historic project.
The idea of having e-passports falls under a raft of short- and long-term plans by PICA, which has pledged to provide valuable service to Jamaicans.
“We are going to boldly go where no agency has gone before,” Wynter told reporters and editors at this week's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange, eliciting laughter at his parody of the popular Star Trek narration.
This push towards increased use of technology, in keeping with current world trends, will also result in the use of e-gates similar to those in Europe, as well as opening up the online process for all products and services.
“Those are just some of the things we are currently exploring over the next few years which we believe will improve the experience and interface with the public, because one of the things PICA wants to do is create value for the Jamaican people. We are a public entity providing services for the public and it's important that they appreciate [the agency] and feel we have created some value for them and they are appreciated,” said Wynter.
Even before serious work is put into the implementation of that system, PICA officials all spoke at length and with passion about other aspects of their immediate development plan — a three-year programme.
“Very shortly we will be hoping to implement additional kiosks at both international airports,” said Wynter.
The kiosks are the automated border control systems or machines that process passengers.
“It is our intention to add 25 machines very shortly — 20 in Montego Bay and five in Kingston,” added Wynter.
PICA executives also outlined the start of a new system under which adults seeking to renew their machine-readable passports may do so with ease.
“We recently implemented a drop box, which is to assist persons with the renewal of their passports to move more quickly because, as you are aware, many persons still have in their mind these very long lines at the passport office; but that is rapidly becoming a thing of the past,” stated Wynter.
“The drop box service is specifically targeting our customers who are using machine-readable passports, which we started issuing in 2001,” Head of Customer Service Stephanie Gordon interjected. “Of course, we may require you to be there if you are replacing a lost passport or if it's your first time [applying for a passport].
“So the drop box allows you to come in with your old passport, complete your application form, take your pictures, you complete an envelope, and then you drop it in the box. You get a receipt, make your payment and then you leave. So it is a very simple process and it frees up our agents to deal with the other persons who are there for other services which require them to be there in person,” said Gordon, who revealed that the system was launched last December.
“We saw about 100 persons applying when we launched in December. Of course, people were sceptical about leaving their passports with us, but it [the drop box use] is growing … we have almost 500 persons applying as at the end of January and we have a customer service assistant there to help you. We have someone on hand just to review, but it's not a long process,” Gordon emphasised.
Gordon also said that Jamaicans in the Diaspora stand to benefit significantly from this initiative.
“In terms of turnaround time, most certainly it will improve because online renewal is quicker as it will eliminate six to eight steps that the average application will take,” Gordon said.
“They now have access to the (online) system and their applications will not have to go through the transportation process it goes through now,” she said, adding that the process will take fewer than 20 days for overseas applicants, and four days for local customers.
“In terms of the cost, we will advise [as soon as possible] because we are in the process of getting approval for the system, and so we have to go through the approval procurement process,” Gordon said.
Wynter emphasised that a courier service is being established in partnership with DHL and the agency hopes to have it in place by the middle of this year to make the passport delivery service more convenient to applicants.
He also said that PICA would soon implement customer service call centres to assist customers with their requests. “We have to prepare ourselves to deal with requests, not just locally but from overseas, and based on the time zones and time differences we will be required to provide these services round the clock. So we are now in discussion to establish which call centres we can use to assist us. So very shortly there will be a 1-800-PICA,” said Wynter.
Asked how PICA intends to fund these programmes, Wynter said that as an executive agency it is required to earn its own revenues. However, budgetary support can come from Government, through the Ministry of Finance, if there is a shortfall in certain target areas.
“We earned just over $1.5 billion last year, and our projection for this year is $2 billion with the different services to be introduced,” Wynter said.
“What we have been looking at is how we are going to earn the necessary financing so that we can finance any and all of our plans. In that regard one of the positions we are looking to develop is what we call a director of business development... to develop potential market segments which we may be currently underserving, and by building out those potential market segments we will earn the additional revenue that certainly will assist us in procuring and implementing many of the services that we are discussing,” he said.