After months of near-paralysis and a long climb from a deep backlog, the U.S. State Department said its passport operations are nearing normal. Americans “can now apply for routine service and expect to receive a passport in 10-12 weeks,” the agency said this week.
“You also have the option of paying an additional $60 for expedited service to receive your passport in 4-6 weeks,” it added.
This marks a dramatic improvement over previous months, when the agency declined to estimate processing times and officials said they could prioritize only “life-or-death” requests.
These new processing-time estimates apply to mail applications and those submitted in person “at an acceptance facility in your community,” officials said in a release Monday.
Many post offices, public libraries and court clerks serve as acceptance facilities; the State Department maintains a passport acceptance facility search page. Federal officials recommend that people apply by mail rather than in person to reduce the risk of transmitting the coronavirus.
When the pandemic erupted in North America in March, federal officials shut most passport functions, and many offices were closed for months. Because of the security issues involved, workers couldn’t process passport applications or renewals at home.
Now officials say their agencies and centers are again processing passport applications at varying rates. There are, however, no walk-in services. An in-person appointment is available only “for customers who need a passport within 72 hours (3 business days) due to a life-or-death emergency.”
In the seven-day period that ended Sept. 23, officials said, they issued 165,000 passports. In that same period, 179,000 new applications arrived, leaving a backlog of 934,000 passports to be issued. With productivity increasing, the agency said it has gained a steadier footing (and would stop issuing weekly updates on passports issued and the backlog).
Officials said they have finished processing applications received before June 30 and “are well on our way through applications received in July.”
A year ago, the usual processing time for passports was six to eight weeks — a month faster than now. State Department officials aren’t saying when they’ll return to that rate, instead stating, “We will reevaluate the processing times on a rolling basis and will adjust them downward as resources allow.”
(Article written by Christopher Reynolds)