PHILADELPHIA — Panic is growing among travelers. Many say their upcoming trips are jeopardized because they cannot get their passports.
If you need a new passport then you are urged to apply as soon as possible as this is a nightmare. And Passport Services says to expect things to get worse before they get better.
“I’m going to Dublin, Ireland, Friday St. Patrick’s Day, of course, and this is my first international trip since COVID-19,” said CJ Leonard of Roslyn, Montgomery County.
But the trip almost fell through.
“I almost couldn’t secure my passport,” she said.
Prior to her departure on March 12, Leonard applied for her passport online on January 22 with expedited service.
“It said ‘three to five weeks’ at the time,” Leonard recalls.
But then the processing time changed.
“If you applied after Feb. 6, it looks like the timeline has been updated for ‘five to seven weeks,’” Leonard said.
And the online renewal program has been put on hold. The State Department is calling on customers who renewed online to be “volunteers” who helped “test” the system.
It says a full online rollout with improvements is expected later this year.
Meanwhile, when her passport failed to arrive, Leonard tried to get help from the Office of Passport Services.
“I was then on hold for two hours, about two hours or 45 minutes,” said Leonard.
“That’s the reality of our situation right now. We have two call centers across the country. We have over 1,000 phone lines with hundreds of customer service representatives,” explains Andres Rodriguez of the US Office of Passport Services. “What we’re seeing now is just a higher number of people applying for passports earlier this year.”
The State Department website says processing time is eight to 11 weeks for routine maintenance and five to seven weeks for accelerated maintenance.
But that is not what the consumer experiences.
And good luck with making an appointment at a passport office near you.
“The only appointments we have are in Seattle, Honolulu and San Juan, Puerto Rico,” Rodriguez said.
Passport Services says it has ramped up its recruiting efforts.
“We have employees who work many hours of overtime,” Rodriguez said.
But a word of warning: Passport Services doesn’t expect the situation to improve any time soon.
“We predict those times are going to get longer,” he said.
The Office of Passport Services does not call it a backlog, but ‘an increased level of work’.
The good news for Leonard, she got her passport just in time for her trip thanks to her local congressman.
Leonard also shared a pro tip for the shortest wait time on the phone: Start calling just before 8am
More from a State Department spokesperson:
1. We have noticed that people who have renewed passports online are now referred to as “volunteers” who helped “test” the system… and the online renewal system has been put on hold. Is this correct? When will it be back online? Why is it paused and what changes will be made before it is available for use again?
“We are committed to the president’s executive order on transforming the federal customer experience and service delivery to restore trust in government. To deliver on this promise, we have begun testing a secure online passport renewal (OPR) option .
We launched the limited release of OPR in February 2022 for federal government employees and contractors. In August 2022, we expanded the audience to the public, with availability monitored monthly to enable employee training and system testing. Since then, more than 500,000 customers have successfully applied online. Based on feedback and lessons learned from the limited releases, we will continue to make improvements to optimize the user experience for renewing passports online.
On February 7, we temporarily closed the online renewal service to new customers. This pause will allow us to process existing requests submitted through OPR and continue to improve the customer experience.”
2. What do you say to people who are unable to get an appointment at a passport office within 5 days of planned travel…while they have applied within the expected processing time?
“We have procedures for those Americans who need to travel at the last minute for emergencies, life-or-death situations. This typically refers to travel within three business days because an immediate family member outside the United States has died, is dying, or has a life-threatening illness or injury. More information is available on our website.
We also have procedures in place for those who urgently need to travel internationally within 14 calendar days. However, for those who need last-minute passports for holiday travel, they should expect our appointments to fill up quickly. Again, our message to American citizens is to plan way ahead to avoid such a situation.”
3. How many people were able to successfully apply online?
“See answer to question #1.”
4. Can people who have never had a passport apply online – or was the online system just for renewals?
“First-time passport applicants were not eligible to participate in the limited-release online passport renewal pilot.”
5. The State Department websites show that current wait times are 8-11 weeks for routine maintenance and 5-7 weeks for expedited maintenance. Is this correct?
That’s right. Routine passport processing can take eight to 11 weeks, and expedited processing takes five to seven weeks and costs $60. Those processing times will increase as the summer travel season approaches.
We are committed to transparency and will continue to provide regular updates on passport processing times, encouraging Americans to apply for their passports well in advance of planned international travel to save money and avoid last-minute hassles or frustrations.”
6. Consumers tell us they have to wait longer. Any answer?
“Processing times start the moment we receive an application and do not include delivery times.
While we meet our processing times in most cases, we understand that some customers who have extended online during our limited release are experiencing delays in receiving their passports.
We are committed to working directly with customers on these issues. We will make every effort to issue a passport before an urgent travel arrangement needs to be made. However, individuals who have applied online and have not received their passport within five days of the scheduled date should call the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778 to make an appointment at a passport office.
Customers renewing online can also pay to upgrade to expedited service or 1-2 day delivery of their completed passports. Customers can log into their account, click “Manage Application” and pay for these services until their applications are approved.
The vast majority of Passport customers are served within the published time frames. However, if an applicant paid the $60 expedited service fee when they applied and did not receive expedited service, they can request a refund of this fee. Additional information about requesting refunds is available on our website.”