The "Passport Marathon", which began a little over a month ago, is due to end this Thursday, June 29. It was launched as an ad hoc solution to the passport applications backlog, in order to enable Israelis planning to fly overseas in the summer to obtain a passport immediately, even if at the expense of a long wait in a queue.
Expectations were low, but it seems that the operation has achieved a lot. It shows how, with the help of flexible thinking and determined execution, even the Population and Immigration Authority can be made to improve its performance dramatically, if just temporarily.
According to Population and Immigration Authority figures, since the start of the "Passport Marathon" project in May 14, 390,414 people have been served at its various offices. Of these, 193,579 received service at the four largest offices and at the passport issuing center in Bnei Brak.
This is very impressive output. At the start, a measurable, numerical target was set for the marathon of 300,000 by June 15. Since that target was reached before the deadline, the marathon was extended by two weeks, and the target was raised to 400,000 passports issued. The very fact that a transparent target was set is remarkable.
The marathon also required cooperation on the part of the Population and Immigration Authority, which had to show flexibility on several matters: extending shifts into the afternoon and evening in return for overtime pay; moving employees between departments; and introducing numerical measurement at the various offices.
These are all matters on which civil servants usually find it hard to compromise, but the Ministry of the Interior and Minister of the Interior Moshe Arbel (Shas), with the aid of the Ministry of Finance, managed to bring them round. The decision to place cameras recording the length of the queue during opening hours and the continuous broadcasting of the pictures on the Internet, is a particularly rare example of out-of-the-box thinking.
The problem that most troubled the Population and Immigration Authority, and that led to the decision to launch the "Passport Marathon", was the drastic unavailability of appointments. In an article on April 20, "Globes" reported that in Beersheva and Haifa, an appointment to renew a passport could be made only for six months ahead, while in Tel Aviv there were no appointments at all.
The "Passport Marathon" hasn’t solved that problem entirely, but it has eased it. Even at the Population and Immigration Authority’s most crowded office, in the government offices in Tel Aviv, an appointment can be made today for July 5, a week-and-a-half away. Anyone especially spontaneous can go to the office in Ariel, Umm al-Fahm, or Afula tomorrow. On the other hand, in some places, such as Rishon LeZion and Rosh Ha’ayin, the earliest available appointments are in December.
The real solution is passport issuing machines, which the Ministry of the Interior has been promising since May 2022. In August it was stated that they would be rolled out by December, but it still hasn’t happened. The only one in service is undergoing trials at the government offices in Tel Aviv.
The Population and Immigration Authority now says that the new timetable is for September, almost a year-and-a-half after the initial target date. In a press conference on May 1 this year, Population and Immigration Authority director Eyal Siso said that by the end of the year there would be 50 machines around the country facilitating much more efficient issuing of passports. Will it actually happen? It’s too early to say.
The "Passport Marathon" is a temporary solution intended, among other things, to buy time until a permanent solution is found. The true test will come when it ends, and people in need of a passport will not be able to stand in line at the main offices, but will have to resort once more to the Population and Immigration Authority’s online appointments system. The marathon will not prove to have been of long-term use unless the time it has bought is used to roll out the automatic machines.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on June 26, 2023.
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