The Wait For US Passports Creates Travel Purgatory And Snarling Summer Preparations
The wait for US passports creates travel purgatory and snarling summer preparations. A much-feared backlog of US passport applications has blasted through a wall of government bureaucracy as global travel returns to pre-pandemic levels – with far too few people to manage the demand.
Jane RestureJul 04, 20238748 Shares174954 Views
The wait for US passports creates travel purgatoryand snarling summer preparations. A much-feared backlog of US passport applications has blasted through a wall of government bureaucracy as global travelreturns to pre-pandemic levels – with far too few people to manage the demand.
According many ambitious travelers in the United States and throughout the world, the outcome is a perplexing pre-travel purgatory marked, at best, by pricey uncertainty. Looking for a valid US passport for your trip in 2023? Buckle up, aspiring traveler, for an adventure unlike any other before you set foot near an airport.
Passport applicants describe a slow-motion misery of waiting, fretting, holding the line, refreshing the page, complaining to Congress, paying extra costs, and following wrong directions. Some applicants are purchasing new plane tickets in order to obtain in-process passports where they are – in other places — in time to board the flights they originally planned.
The prognosis is so bleak that US authorities aren't even denying the problem or forecasting when it will be resolved. The huge wait times are being blamed on persisting pandemic-related personnel shortages and a halt in online processing this year.
As a result, the passport service is receiving a record-breaking 500,000 applications every week. According to the State Department, the flood is on course to surpass last year's total of 22 million passports issued.
Wait for US passports creating travel purgatory, snarling summer plans
Stories from applicants and interviews with The Associated Press show a crisis management system in which agencies prioritize urgent situations such as applicants flying for "life or death" reasons and those whose trip is only a few days away. Everyone else has limited and pricey alternatives.
So, if you still require a valid U.S. passport in 2023, prepare for an unscheduled trip to the nightmare zone.
Ginger Collier, a Dallas-area florist, registered for four passports in early March in preparation for a family vacation at the end of June. The cashier projected wait periods of eight to eleven weeks, she claimed. They'd have their passports a month before the trip.
Plenty of time,- Ginger Collier, a Dallas-area florist
The State Department then increased the wait period for a normal passport to up to 13 weeks.
We'll still be okay,- Ginger Collier,
I can't sleep,- Ginger Collier
she said with less than two weeks to go. This after months of calling, waiting, refreshing a webpage, attempting to contact her member of Congress — and fretting as the departure date approached. Failure to secure the family's passports would cost her $4,000, as well as the opportunity to see one of her sons in Italy after a semester of study abroad.
My nerves are shot, because I may not be able to get to him,- Ginger Collier
she said. She calls the toll-free number every day, holds for as much as 90 minutes to be told — at best — that she might be able to get a required appointment at passport offices in other states.
I can’t afford four more plane tickets anywhere in the United States to get a passport when I applied in plenty of time. How about they just process my passports?- Ginger Collier
By March, anxious passengers were seeking answers and assistance, including from their lawmakers in the House and Senate, who publicly stated at hearings this year that they were getting more complaints from constituents about passport delays than any other subject.
The United States Secretary of State had a sort of response.
With COVID, the bottom basically dropped out of the system,- Antony Blinken
Antony Blinken told a House hearing on March 23. When demand for travel nearly vanished during the epidemic, he added, the government laid off contractors and relocated passport-handling workers.
Around the same time, the government also halted an online renewal system
to make sure that we can fine tune it and improve it.- Antony Blinken
He stated that the department is employing as many agents as possible, scheduling more appointments, and attempting to handle the situation in various ways.
Passport applicants bombarded social media groups, toll-free numbers, and MPs' phone lines with inquiries, suggestions, and pleas for assistance. Bewilderment and rage erupted on Facebook and WhatsApp groups.
Reddit released eye-watering records of application dates, deposits submitted, contacts made, time on wait, money spent, and advise requests, some of which were more than 1,000 words long.
For the first time, a legislation mandated passports for any American traveling overseas, even during peacetime, in 1952. According to the Government Printing Office, passports are now processed in sites around the country and printed at secure facilities in Washington, D.C. and Mississippi.
However, according to Jay Zagorsky, an economist at Boston University's Questrom School of Business, the number of Americans with valid U.S. passports has increased nearly 10% faster than the population over the last three decades.
After experiencing passport delays on his own trip to London earlier this year, Zagorsky discovered that the number of US passports issued per American has increased from roughly three per 100 people in 1989 to about 46 per 100 people in 2022. It turns out that Americans are on the move.
As a society gets richer, the people in that society say, ‘I want to visit the rest of the world.- Jay Zagorsky
The situation isn't much better in American consulates across the world. According to the website, residents in New Delhi may expect to wait 451 days for a visa interview on a June day. Those in Sao Paulo may have to wait more than 600 days.
Aspiring passengers in Mexico City had to wait roughly 750 days, while those in Bogota, Colombia, had to wait 801 days.
The need is especially pressing in Israel. More than 200,000 persons having dual citizenship live in Israel. It's one appointment per person, including for babies, who must be accompanied by both parents before coming to the United States.
Batsheva Gutterman began looking for three appointments shortly after giving birth in December, with the goal of attending a family celebration in Raleigh, North Carolina, in July.
Her search for three passports lasted from January until June, only days before her trip. And it was only fixed after Gutterman paid a tiny price to join a WhatsApp group that notified her to fresh meetings that barely lasted a few seconds. She eventually received three appointments in three days – bureaucracy personified.
We had to drive the entire family with three small children, an hour-and-a-half to Tel Aviv three days in a row, taking off work and school. This makes me incredibly uneasy having a baby in Israel as an American citizen, knowing there is no way I can fly with that baby until we get lucky with an appointment.- Batsheva Gutterman
There seems to be some development recently. On June 8, the wait for a passport renewal appointment in the United States was 360 days. According to the website, the wait was reduced to 90 days on July 2.
Marni Larsen of Holladay, Utah, stood in line in Los Angeles, California, on June 14, hoping to obtain her son's passport. She hoped that way, the duo might meet the rest of their family, who had already gone for Europe for a long-planned holiday.
She'd filed for her son's passport two months before, and she'd spent weeks checking for developments online or over the phone, which was a pain. Larsen contacted Sen. Mitt Romney's office as the mid-June vacation approached, and one of the four persons he claims is committed full-time to passport issues was able to locate the paperwork in New Orleans.
It was intended to be delivered to Los Angeles, where she had arranged to pick it up. Larsen was forced to purchase new tickets for herself and her kid to Los Angeles and reroute their journey from there to Rome. All on the assumption that her son's passport will be delivered as promised.
We are just waiting in this massive line of tons of people. It’s just been a nightmare.- Marni Larsen
They were successful. But not everyone has been that fortunate.
Miranda Richter went to the passport office on Feb. 9 to renew her and her husband's passports as well as apply for a new one for a vacation to Croatia with their neighbors on June 6.
She ended up canceling, incurring a loss of more than $1,000. Her chronology looked like this: Her husband and daughter's passports came in 11 weeks, but Richter's photo was rejected. She sent in a fresh one through priority mail on May 4.
Then she paid a $79 rush fee that was never debited to her credit card. Richter and her husband spent more than 12 hours on the national passport line between May 30 and June 2, four days before their trip, while also phoning their congressman, senators, and third-party couriers.
Finally, she arrived 30 minutes before the passport office opened at the federal building in downtown Houston. According to Richter, there were at least 100 people in line.
The security guard asked when is my appointment, and I burst out in tears. It didn’t work.- Miranda Richter
Finally, they were summoned to a window, where the agent was "super nice" and retrieved all four of the family's applications, which had been sitting in the office since March 17. After more than seven hours, the two exited the office with instructions to pick up their passports the next day. They completed the task with four days to spare.
What a ridiculous process. Nevertheless, the reunion with her son in Italy was sweet. It was the best hug ever!- Ginger Collier