(CNN) — American travelers who do not currently have a valid passport will not be able to travel abroad this summer due to long wait times, as the State Department faces a delay of more than a million applications caused in large part by the coronavirus pandemic, a department official said Wednesday.
“At this time, the lead time for routine passport applications, both new and renewal, can be up to 18 weeks, including processing time, initial internal receipt of applications, and mailing. “said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services Rachel Arndt in a press call. He added that the waiting time for urgent passports, which cost US $ 60, is up to 12 weeks.
“This means that people who submit new passport applications right now will not receive their new passport until well into the fall,” he said, noting that “last minute passport appointments are extremely limited.”
“US citizens who wish to travel abroad this summer and do not currently have a passport may have to make alternative travel plans,” he said.
Arndt indicated that the delay in the processing of passports “is currently between one and a half million and two million applications.”
“That’s a bit higher than what we would normally expect to see. However, this is really because as travelers increased thanks to the availability of vaccines, the workload started to arrive faster than it was. we would see normally, “he said.
Arndt attributed many of the current passport processing problems to the coronavirus pandemic, noting that “interruptions from the pandemic continue to have a ripple effect on all steps of the passport processing process, including the amount of time it currently takes us. process a passport application “.
The official noted that the State Department “will have more than 150 employees who will return to 21 agencies across the country, and that will increase our ability to process requests more quickly” and that “they are considering returning to staff levels. pre-pandemic and additional staff from both government and contractors. “
Arndt said that staff had returned to passport centers in 17 cities and that “we have another five awaiting approval to move them, so they are fully open, with all staff back in office.”
“Passport specialists have to be physically present in the office to process them,” Arndt said. “They do not process remotely or from home. We require connectivity to systems and databases for our issuance process, which are currently only accessible from our facilities.”
“And, of course, the physical printing and shipping of passports and cards takes place from our facilities,” he added.
Arndt cautioned against scams selling passport appointments online, saying that “the State Department does not charge an emergency appointment reservation fee at one of our agencies or centers, so if someone receives a request for payment for scheduling an appointment for a US passport, that should be considered fraudulent. “
“I would also like to say that the department is not affiliated with any third party appointment booking services, and we have seen numerous instances of counterfeit appointment bookings through these providers. And, unfortunately, we may not be able to meet the requirements. appointments booked through third parties, so we are aware and we are working to try to rectify that situation, “he explained.
On Monday, Representatives Gregory Meeks and Michael McCaul, the chairman and highest ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken asking that the State Department “prioritize efforts to reduce the processing time for passport applications, “noting that current waiting times” far exceed the usual processing times before the start of the global covid-19 pandemic. “
The New York Democrat and the Texas Republican asked the department to provide responses by Friday about its strategy to reduce processing times, its estimated time frame to return to pre-pandemic waiting times, and what additional resources or government authorities Congress might need to fix the problems. Arndt told reporters: “I am sure we have received that letter and we will respond quickly.”