Being a Sri Lankan who has lived abroad, I have made several dozen trips to the Department of Immigration and Emigration over the past decade. I have been to the department for Passports, Visas, Dual Citizenship, and to help a friend navigate the process once or twice.
A few days ago, I did something I have done several times over the years. I went to the department to get something done, and I left after wasting about an hour there, and an hour in transit. The situation was so untenable and unacceptable that I walked into an official’s office, gave them a bit of sarcasm and left.
Unfortunately, over the years, I think the situation has gotten worse. The crowds bigger, the facility even more inadequate, and the officials slower. People have to come and waste hours with small children. Large crowds of people bump up against one another where people cough and spread the flu which is raging around Colombo these days. It is in fact a public health hazard which is one of the reasons I left.
The department was previously under the Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse, so one would expect to see some deterioration. This is certainly the case. However, it must be noted, that although the department was under Mr. Rajapakse for almost a decade, the progress was still pathetic. Mr. Rajapakse also miserably failed as the head of this department.
The joke of the matter is, anyone who comes to the department for immigration issues must ponder as to why they really want to come to this country, while those on route for emigration must ponder how to get out of the country and never come back!
Department Makes Money
A sad part of the process of dealing with the Department is that people pay fees, sometimes as high as Rs300,000 in the case of Dual Citizenship.
If a study was done, it would almost certainly reveal that the department is highly profitable, and that it loses a significant amount of revenue by being inefficient. The department is a cash machine, where even the poor man will cough up money for a passport.
Even people who don’t have the money scrape together the Rs300,000 to get dual citizenship.
People have to make a financial sacrifice for this, which if you were American, your citizenship would have never lapsed in the first place. The government is making money off the people, and for this they provide a dismal level of service.
A Solvable Problem
The tragedy in this situation is that this problem is easily solvable. It requires:
1.A proper facility
2.An adequate staff cadre who are properly trained
3.Longer working hours
4.Proper processes to ensure efficient work flow
5.Online processing of issues as much as possible
6.An express option for those who pay a fee
And that’s off the top of ones head. This type of thing is done all over the world. It is not rocket science. If we as a nation can not get this right then what can we do? People talk about making this the next Hong Kong or Singapore, but we cant even sort out our highly profitable department of immigration and emigration. Are we kidding ourselves thinking we can run before we can even crawl?
An Opportunity for the Government to Shine
The Immigration and Emigration Department touches a significant segment of the population. If the government makes this a trophy of its achievement people will notice. We can make this department a Singapore standard, with reasonable expenditure that will have a tangible return on investment.
The previous administration did things that people noticed. The development was visible and tangible. This government’s accomplishments are more intangible like the restoration of basic human freedoms and due process.
This government needs an accomplishment that people can see and talk about. The beauty of reforming the department of immigration is that we can easily do it. The fact that we have not done so is a policy and administration failure, and a National Disgrace.