It’s spring and travel season is here! After years of lockdowns, many are ready to get out there and see the world but what if you need to renew or apply for a passport? Well, you may want to get ready to hurry up and wait as the U.S. Department of State is struggling to keep up with demand.
Many news outlets are reporting lately on this issue including our elected officials who are taking to social media urging constituents to plan ahead due to significant and unprecedented delays in passport processing.
Stories of people barely making a trip or worse, having to cancel, because their passport wasn’t processed in time, is due to a variety of factors namely the sheer volume of those hoping to travel but also a pilot program rolled out by the State Department to renew eligible passports online that has caused significant delays with no foreseeable end in sight. That online renewal program was halted in February of 2023 due to the inability to process the volume of passports submitted for renewal.
One Woman’s Story and a Call to Contact Your Elected Officials
Laura Richards, a mom of four from the Boston area, was one of the people who renewed online but started to worry when she planned months in advance of their family’s departure date for a long-saved for trip to Europe. She renewed her expired passport online back in 2022 but when her husband and four children’s passports were already delivered and they applied after her, she began to grow concerned.
Laura says, “My husband renewed his passport online after I did but he received his after we called to check on both of ours. My four children weren’t eligible to renew online as they were under 16 at the time their last passport was issued so I went with them to renew in person and they got theirs a month later. Three months after I renewed online, my status was still anguishing ‘in process’ on the State Department website when I could access the site…most of the time the site was down and the wait times to speak to a live person were a minimum of two hours. I waited the two hours and spoke to a representative who said they couldn’t help me then transferred me to another rep whose wait time was three hours. When I renewed online back in late 2022, I received an email that my passport would arrive within 6-9 weeks. Once I hit week 12 with no change in status knew something was very wrong and that I had to do something.”
Laura contacted her congressperson’s office who advised her to show proof of travel and fill out a claim form. “As a journalist, I knew contacting our Massachusetts Congresswoman Katherine Clark’s office was my only hope. Her immigration coordinator Katie got right back to me and within a few days I received contact from the Boston passport office that they’d overnight my passport due to the extreme delay I was incurring.” Laura received her passport in mid-March but two weeks after receiving her passport, she said the MyTravelGov site shows that her passport is still “in process” and not delivered.
Laura highly recommends contacting your congressperson if you’re well past the promised delivery date of your passport and have proof of impending travel.
Special Passport Acceptance Fairs
Due to the extreme delays with passport processing, the U.S. State Department announced recently that they’re hosting special passport acceptance fairs for adults applying for a first time passport and children using form DS-11 to apply. Please note that these fairs are in person only and in limited states (mostly New Jersey) and intended only for first time passport applicants not for renewals of passports. If you are eligible to renew your passport, you’re encouraged to renew by mail as the online renewal option has been temporarily closed due to extreme delays and backlogs.
Current Passport Processing Times
According to the State Department website, routine passport processing costs $130 and is taking 8 to 11 weeks with expedited service costing an extra $60 on top of the $130 and is taking 5 to 7 weeks though these times are in reality taking much longer with an expected 18 weeks or more so plan as far in advance as possible. The State Department staff said wait times are expected to get longer as the spring and summer travel season approaches.
It’s important to note that passport processing times begin the day the Department of State receives your application at a passport agency or center, not the day you mail your application or apply. Mailing times may add several weeks on to the door-to-door time it takes to receive your passport.
Emergency or Urgent Travel Needs
There are some exceptions for those who have a dying or injured family member and need to travel urgently. You may have to wait on the phone for a few hours, but the State Department suggests calling 877-487-2778. You must have an appointment to go in person to a passport agency or center. Appointments are limited and there is no guarantee that one will be available.
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