‘The Perfect Storm’: Why US Travelers Are Being Crippled by a Passport Backlog

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Some Americans had their summer travel plans disrupted this year thanks to a government backlog of passport applications.

A post-pandemic travel surge created a bureaucratic logjam that extended wait times by a month or more. They’re working hard to get back on track.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) admitted, “It’s pretty bad. I mean, I’ve got, you know, friends, I’ve even had a family member, you know, that sent in their passport renewal application, for example, in the spring, and it got to be mid-summer. And they still hadn’t gotten and heard anything.”

That includes Miranda Richter, who planned to take her family on a June trip to Italy and Croatia. Although she applied for their passports three months before, a rejected photo prevented her from receiving the passports in time, forcing her to cancel.

Richter said, “Just complete sadness and disappointment…I realize that I am just one of hundreds of people here in the situation.”

So, why the backlog?

Senator Warner serves on the Finance Committee overseeing customs and international trade. He explains everything changed when the COVID emergency ended in May.

Americans wanted to travel, and new passport and renewal applications skyrocketed from a low of 11 million during the pandemic to 25 million this year. That rush meant wait times went from about eight weeks to 13.  Before COVID, travelers wanting an expedited passport could get one within 2 to 4 weeks. Now, it can take up to 13 weeks. 

Sen. Warner said, “So, the perfect storm of people wanting to travel, the downturn during COVID, and the hiring freezes that didn’t allow new people to be brought on, has created a real challenge.”

State Department employees are reportedly working weekends and nights to ease the strain, processing 400,000 applications per week. They’re even holding summer passport fairs, including one in Austin, Texas, which reached capacity in minutes.

So, what else needs to be done to get those passport processing times back down to previous levels?

Warner says more employees are needed to work the phones and he urges people to be patient. Processing times are expected to improve by early 2024. “By around Christmastime, they’ll have a couple of things have gotten through the backlog. There will be a new online system where you can renew at least your passport online,” he said.

And that could mean shorter wait times. Also, people will be allowed to apply at passport offices without making an appointment.

As for those short-term mission trips that many churches and Christian organizations plan for the summer months?

In a statement to CBN News, the Southern Baptist’s International Mission Board said, “Thankfully, due to processes which allow plenty of time for travel-related necessities, we have not seen a major impact… On short- or long-term mission endeavors related to our organization.” 

In other words, try to plan further ahead.   

In the meantime, check the expiration date on your passport, and whether you’re renewing or applying for the first time, allow at least three months, not weeks for processing before that planned trip outside the USA.

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