In mid-March, the US State Department shut down the regular passport operations, both in the US and in embassies around the world. For people that had applied for new passports or renewals just before that, it has meant that they have been waiting for a few months now. The current backlog of passports awaiting processing sits at 1.6 million passport applications. Try this stat – that equals the same amount of passports that were issued in the 1920s!
1.6 Million American Passports and Counting…
According to a report provided last week, there are 9,000 passport applications every day that arrive for processing. This is making an already intensely backed up system to be even more backed up.
Since the suspension of regular passport processing, the US is only issuing passports on life-and-death applications. These are being done by the US passport agencies where passports can be printed onsite. For everyone else, it is just a wait…wait…wait – and then wait some more – process until they get their passports in the mail.
Apparently, around 26,000 passports were processed in April and May – but, again, with 9,000 applications arriving each day, that is a drop in the bucket (except for the 26,000 Americans that received those passports!).
Yep, Important Documents Are With Those Applications as Well
While many may say (and correctly) that global travel is not really something most will pursue right now, the issue is bigger than that. For first time applicants (or children that are renewing under the age of 16), they had to surrender their documents like birth certificates during the processing timeframe. For most, the birth certificate can just be obtained again from a records office.
But, for those American children born abroad, they have what is called a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (we have two children with these – I will be posting a post in the future about the process of obtaining these). These are not easy to get replacements of and they are not cheap – each one costs $100! So, if the parents need that birth certificate for anything else at all, they have been stuck the last couple of months and will continue to be stuck for possibly several more.
The State Department’s Phased Plan for Reopening Passports
While the State Department did put out the plan below to help both Congress and the Americans waiting to know the process, they did not exactly specify a timeline for all of this. That means that they have a plan but those waiting have no idea when the plan will actually be acted upon.
Phase 1: Limited staff return to work, allowing us to resume limited processing of applications we already received. Applications will be processed on a first in, first out basis. We will continue to prioritize services for customers with life-or-death emergencies. Customers must wear cloth face coverings in all common areas, including our lobbies, and observe strict social distancing. During phase one, we will continue to recommend customers wait to submit new or renewal applications as delays will continue.
Phase 2: Most staff will return to work, and will process applications on a first in, first out basis, beginning with the oldest applications. Staff and customers should wear cloth face coverings in all common areas, including our lobbies, and continue to observe social distancing.
Phase 3: All remaining Passport Services staff return to work. We will continue to address applications on a first in, first out basis, focusing on the oldest applications. Staff and customers may wear cloth face coverings in common areas and we will encourage social distancing. We also plan to resume expedited processing in this phase.
The problem is that the timeline for all of this is based on “local conditions” so it does not mean that everything may even go as they are planning. Also, note that they are processing passports (when they start again) on a first in, first out basis. While that is fair, keep that in mind if you have sent your application in within the last month – you are likely at the bottom of a stack of 1.6 million applications.
Last year, the US issued just over 20 million passports in the entire year. So far, since March 19, they have a backlog of 1.6 million passports and that is growing at around a rate of 9,000 new applications per day. If we account for weekends and holidays, the US issued (on an average) of 83,000 passports each day. If they are able to do the same when they open up again, it could take 21 days to issue all the passports (assuming the continued rate of 9,000 new applications per day). That does not seem that long but remember – it is not going back to normal for quite a bit of time yet.
We had one of our children’s passports renewed and received just a week before this shutdown so we just missed it! But, I know there are many that are currently stuck and not able to do anything about it. Hopefully, the federal government will work on this quickly when they get back to it.