Passport Crisis Snarls Travel

Scaled back during pandemic, agency now can't recover
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 3, 2023 6:45 PM CDT
Updated Jul 6, 2023 1:40 AM CDT
US Sees No End to Lines for Passports
The cover of a US Passport is displayed in Tigard, Ore., in December 2021.   (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)
UPDATE Jul 6, 2023 1:40 AM CDT

We previously reported that the passport situation in the US is bad, but just how bad? The State Department recommends that you submit your passport application at least six months prior to your departure date, NBC News reports. Take into account, of course, that first you have to book an appointment, then you have to allow your application to make its way through the mail to the State Department. Once it arrives there, processing takes 10 to 13 weeks unless you pay $60 extra to expedite that, in which case you're looking at seven to nine weeks. And you might need to think even more ahead, because there's also the fact that some countries require passports to be valid for at least six months before travel begins; see the State Department's information on country-specific requirements here.

Jul 3, 2023 6:45 PM CDT

Seeking a valid US passport for that 2023 trip? Buckle up, wishful traveler, for a very different journey before you step anywhere near an airport. A much-feared backup of passport applications has smashed into a wall of government bureaucracy as worldwide travel rebounds toward record pre-pandemic levels—with too few humans to handle the load. The result, say aspiring travelers in the US and around the world, is a maddening pre-travel purgatory defined, at best, by costly uncertainty, the AP reports. With family dreams and big money on the line, passport seekers describe a slow-motion agony of waiting, worrying, holding the line, refreshing the screen, complaining to Congress, paying extra fees, and following incorrect directions.

Some applicants buy additional plane tickets to snag in-process passports where they sit—in other cities—in time to make the flights they booked in the first place. So grim is the outlook that US officials aren't even denying the problem or predicting when it will ease. They're blaming lingering pandemic-related staffing shortages and a pause of online processing this year. That's left the passport agency flooded with a recordbreaking 500,000 applications a week. The deluge is on track to top last year's 22 million passports issued, the State Department says. Stories from applicants and interviews by the AP depict a system of crisis management, in which the agencies prioritize urgent cases such as applicants traveling for reasons of "life or death" and those whose travel is only a few days off. For everyone else, the options are few and expensive.

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By March, travelers began asking for answers and then demanding help, including from their representatives in the House and Senate, who widely reported at hearings this year that they were receiving more complaints from constituents on passport delays than any other issue. The US secretary of state attempted an explanation. "With COVID, the bottom basically dropped out of the system," Antony Blinken told a House subcommittee. When demand for travel all but disappeared during the pandemic, he said, contractors were dropped and staff handling passports reassigned. Also, the government halted an online renewal system "to make sure that we can fine-tune it and improve it," Blinken said. He said the department is hiring agents as quickly as possible, opening appointments, and trying to address the crisis in other ways. (More passports stories.)

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