BALTIMORE — Americans traveling outside the country, and in need of a new passport, may have to change their plans. Passport processing is extremely backed up.
The State Department’s Passport Services said people who submit new passport applications right now will not get their new passport until well into the fall.
Processing times have been extended to 12-18 weeks, and it could take awhile for wait times return to the normal 6-8 weeks.
“We planned a trip to the Bahamas,” said Brian Payne who booked a vacation to reunite with family and friends in the Caribbean. But like many others, his family’s passports expired during the pandemic.
“April 22nd, we went to the local post office. We had an appointment, we had all of our documents, sat down with the postal worker, they went through everything, organized everything, packaged everything, billed us, shipped it, so it arrived at the passport office on April 29th,” Payne said.
With 6-8 weeks processing that gave him a month of cushion. However, in June he hadn’t heard anything so he called passport services.
“We were told at that point they had just processed the passports and our clock starts then,” Payne said.
And processing times would now take 10-12 weeks.
“They don’t give you any information on the phone, you go online and all it says is in process,” said Payne. “When they do answer they say, 'Yah, I understand, let me see if there’s an appointment available,' which they know there’s not. They know it, and they say, ‘Oh no, there’s not one in DC, not one in Philly, not one in New York, not one in Boston, nowhere.’ So, you’re stuck.”
Two weeks before their travel date, Payne contacted his federal legislators.
More than 400 constituents have contacted Senator Ben Cardin’s office.
Senator Chris Van Hollen’s Office currently has 275 to 300 open passport cases and has handled more than 500 in the last few months.
Senator Van Hollen also brought up this issue during a nomination hearing for the Assistant Secretary of State.
“As we continue to reopen, many Marylanders are making travel plans. As a result, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in passport renewals and applications – and many are experiencing delays. That’s why I’ve urged the State Department to clear the COVID-19 backlog as quickly as possible and will continue pushing them to address these issues. In the meantime, my office stands ready to ensure Marylanders get the assistance they need, and we will continue working diligently to help our constituents navigate this process.”
Senator Van Hollen wrote in an email to WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii.
Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger’s office has received 160-170 requests since June 1.
“After more than a year of travel restrictions and health concerns, Congressman Ruppersberger’s constituents are ready to reunite with family, study abroad or reach international customers for their businesses. We’ve heard from an unprecedented number of frustrated constituents who are not only facing the possibility of cancelled travel plans, but are sitting on hold for hours just trying to get information from the passport agency. That’s inexcusable."
-Jaime Lennon, director of communications for Congressman Ruppersberger
Recently, passport services held a briefing with reporters.
“We are surging staff, both adjudicators and contractors, back into the office at agencies across the country as COVID restrictions ease. But it will take time for wait times to fall from the current 12 to 18 weeks to pre-pandemic levels,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services Rachel Arndt with the Bureau of Consular Affairs. “Our backlog currently is somewhere in the range of a million and a half to 2 million applications."
Fortunately for Payne, his family’s passports arrived four days before their trip, but checking the government’s website, he said you wouldn’t know it.
“All of our passports status still say in process,” said Payne. “I probably checked that 100 times but I checked it for no good reason because they don't appear to be using it.”
Customers can pay an additional $60 for expedited service, however, it’s still expected to take 12 weeks.
Passport Services recommends anyone thinking of traveling internationally to apply for a passport six months in advance. Also, remember to check your child’s passport, which expires in five years. Adult passports expire in 10 years.
And Arndt said they’re aware of people selling passport appointments online.
“The Department of State does not charge a fee to solely book an emergency appointment at one of our agencies or centers, so if anyone receives a request for payment for scheduling a U.S. passport appointment, that should be considered fraudulent ... And I’d also like to say that the department is not affiliated with any third-party appointment booking services, and we’ve seen numerous instances of falsified appointment bookings through these vendors. And unfortunately, we may not be able to honor appointments booked via third party, so we are aware and are working to try to rectify that situation.”
-Rachel Arndt, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services with the Bureau of Consular Affairs
Passport Services is still offering extremely limited appointments for customers who have urgent international travel in the next 72 hours for reasons other than life and death emergencies.
A spokesperson for Senator Cardin told Sofastaii that the Senator has requested an oversight hearing on this issue.
Last week, more than 200 members of Congress signed a letter sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging a resolution to this matter as quickly as possible.