In a phone-in press conference on July 14, 2021, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services Rachel Arndt confirmed what anyone waiting for a U.S. passport knows—that processing times are incredibly slow. And there’s no immediate end in sight.
Ms. Arndt stated that now, “normal” passport processing times are 12 to 18 weeks, blaming the increasingly long backlogs on COVID. While COVID may account for some slowdowns over the past year, it doesn’t completely explain the State Department’s delay in rehiring laid-off workers and accelerating new hires or just anticipating the demand for travel like everyone else has.
Reschedule Travel Abroad for Summer
Callers asked questions about a variety of issues affecting Americans who desire to travel abroad this summer. Not surprisingly, Ms. Arndt suggested that anyone with summer travel plans abroad, but without a valid passport, consider alternate plans. It’s very likely that travelers waiting for new or renewed passports won’t have them on time. The State Department does not yet have the resources to move faster.
While she suggested that Americans applying for passports are better off mailing them in, one caller asked about the situation with children. The government requires that children appear in person with both parents when applying for a passport at either a passport processing location or at a U.S. Post Office. The government will not make any changes to that in-person requirement for children. Families traveling with children will still have to appear in person, delaying the time even more as they struggle to make an appointment.
Bots and USPS also Contribute to the Problem
On another note, a Wall Street Journal reported noted that the U.S. Postal Service itself is causing additional delays in delivering the passports. She reported that people are seeing an additional six-week delays from the time the online passport site shows it’s been mailed to the time it’s received. Unfortunately, that part of the delay is out of the State Department’s control.
To make matters worse, apparently, several third-party companies have accessed the scheduling site using fraudulent information to lock-up most of the available appointments. These companies are now selling the passport appointment slots to desperate people who can’t otherwise make an appointment in the system.
Ms. Arndt stated that the passport agencies will not likely honor appointments for which people paid money to scammers. They are aware of the problem but apparently have not figured out how to eliminate it and take control back over their own appointment system. If you’ve tried to get an appointment, but can’t, it’s likely these scammers have locked up all of them. Even urgent and emergency appointments are scarce.
If you don’t have a valid passport right now, you can pretty much forget about having it on time for your summer travel abroad. It’s terribly unfortunate that the government did not anticipate the surge in demand for passports and renewals in January.
Reschedule that Mediterranean cruise for 2022.