As travel restrictions related to COVID-19 begin to ease, many Americans are eager to travel for both business and pleasure. If their travel plans will take them abroad, they will, of course, need a valid passport. Furthermore, with the enforcement of the REAL ID Act set to begin on May 3, 2023, many Americans know that a valid US Passport will be an acceptable substitute for a REAL ID driver’s license when boarding domestic flights. It’s safe to assume that Americans who plan to travel within the US as well as overseas might opt for the passport to serve both purposes.

But during the pandemic, the US Passport Service was also largely on lockdown and is now ramping up again. The result is longer than usual passport processing times of 12 to 18 weeks. (Pre-pandemic processing took six to eight weeks.) This situation calls on Americans to be patient and time their travel plans accordingly.

US Department of State provides an update on passport processing

Last week, the US Department of State held a special press briefing to provide more information about the status of passport services. Rachel Arndt, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services from the department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, who oversees and directs passport services in Washington, DC and its nationwide system of passport centers, laid out the current situation. Key points from the briefing:

  • The current backlog of passport applications is approximately a million and a half to 2 million applications.
  • US Passport office staff are starting to return to their offices as COVID restrictions ease. Until the offices are fully-staffed and operational, the time to process passport applications is 12 to 18 weeks. This applies to both new and renewal passport applications and includes processing time, the initial internal intake of the applications, and mailing.
  • Passport specialists must be physically present in the office to process passports. Processing remotely or from home is not an option. First, they need connectivity to systems and databases that are currently only accessible from within US Passport facilities. The overarching goal is to safeguard the customers’ personally identifiable information and to ensure the integrity of the entire application process. Customers’ sensitive documents like their birth certificates and naturalization certificates are stored only in passport offices. The physical printing and mailing of the passport books and cards takes place in US Passport facilities.
  • Customers can pay an additional $60 to expedite their applications. The wait time for an expedited application is currently up to 12 weeks, much longer than the pre-pandemic two-week timeframe.
  • Last-minute passport appointments are extremely limited. Unfortunately, fraudulent “vendors” are selling passport appointments online. The Department of State is working to shut them down and warns citizens not to fall for these black market schemes.
  • S. embassies and consulates are providing emergency passport services and, in some cases, routine passport services to US citizens overseas.

For information regarding online passport services, including application and renewal options, as well as tracking the status of a passport application, visit TravelState.gov.  

Sources:

US Department of State

The Points Guy

USA Today

Wall Street Journal

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