It’s not news that Americans have recently been shaking off their pandemic-era shackles by booking overseas vacations in droves. But, if you’re planning an international trip that’s only a couple of months away and you need a new passport, you can no longer count on getting it in time.
Passport processing has been moving at a crawl since the onset of the pandemic prompted the Bureau of Consular Affairs to limit staffing or pause operations at its nationwide passport centers and offices. This in itself caused a backlog that’s been difficult to catch up with; but, combine that with the post-pandemic surge of applicants trying to travel overseas now, and the agency has found itself in real trouble.
In recent weeks, the State Department has made attempts to alert the public that they should expect unusually long delays in getting their applications and renewals approved and their actual, physical passports issued.
In light of what it is calling “unprecedented demand,” the U.S. State Department tweeted an update Friday regarding the prolonged periods people are having to wait for their passports to arrive.
Wait times, it wrote, are now typically taking 10 to 13 weeks from the time an application is received (not including mailing time, which could tack on a couple of weeks to the process). Even expedited processing, for which you’ll pay an extra $60, is currently averaging seven to nine weeks.
And, things are getting worse instead of better. This week’s update indicates increased delays since the State Department’s previous advisory, issued in late February, which stated that standard processing was typically taking anywhere from eight to 11 weeks, while expedited service was averaging five to seven weeks.
According to CNN, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday that the agency is, “getting 500,000 applications a week for passports.” That’s somewhere between 30 and 40 percent more applications than this time last year, Blinken told a House Appropriations subcommittee during a budget hearing. “Historically, the demand’s been cyclical, the busy season is kind of March to late summer. Basically, it’s full-time now,” he explained.
In response to increased passport demand, as of today, March 24, routine passport processing takes 10-13 weeks from the time we receive the application; expedited processing ($60 extra) takes 7-9 weeks. https://t.co/JHQJi9tMwL (1/3) pic.twitter.com/2S55lPFSUL
— Travel – State Dept (@TravelGov) March 24, 2023
At the same time, Blinken offered reassurance that the department is working to address the issue. “We’ve hired staff to increase the adjudicative capacity to make sure that…we’ve got the customer service phone lines manned, we have more people in the pipeline and that’s also reflected in the budget. It’s hugely important,” he said.
He also declared that he has, “a task force established at headquarters to marshal all of these efforts so that we’re really digging in on this.” The top U.S. diplomat continued, “We were authorizing overtime, we’ve opened satellite offices, we’re organizing cores at the headquarters to assist in processing, processing times.”
Blinken expressed, “I think it’s really important that we be as clear and transparent as possible with people who are looking for passports to know what they can expect.”
The pilot program for a new online passport renewal platform, established in 2022, was shut down in early February, due to bugs in the system that need to be fixed before it can be made available to the wider public. The State Secretary said the program has been halted, “to make sure that we can fine-tune it and improve it before we roll it out in a bigger way.” He added, “We expect that 65 percent of renewal customers for passports will be able to do so online once this program is fully up and running,”
In light of the current influx of inquiries and complaints from panicked travelers who haven’t yet received their documents, the Bureau has a launched dedicated webpage with available resources and agency contact information to assist applicants who need their passports delivered urgently.
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