US passport processing times increased due to high demand

The United States State Department is warning Americans who need passports that they should expect and plan for longer than usual processing times. While the longer times are generally not longer than two additional weeks, they are still strongly advising people to apply as soon as possible if they think they will need a passport this year.

At the beginning of the year, a new law became effective that requires Americans - and everyone else - to have a valid passport to cross the border of the United States by air. There are very few, exclusive exemptions.

Even though the new policy was well publicized for over a year, large numbers of Americans accustomed to traveling within the Western Hemisphere without a passport were caught somewhat by surprise. Travel to the Caribbean, Canada and Mexico have never required a passport before.

While Canadians and Mexicans have experienced a slight increase in demand for passports, in the United States an estimated 75% of the population has never applied for a passport.

With further requirements coming in January 2008 for car and boat travelers to also have passports to enter or leave the U.S., there has been a dramatic surge in applications for passports. The State Department says it is now issuing U.S. passports in historically high numbers to meet the demand.


Record numbers

Last week, a record 412,000 of the documents were issued, the most ever during a seven-day period, easily besting the previous record of 379,000, the department said in a statement on Monday. The previous record had been set in the previous week.

A boost in staffing, including more overtime and weekend hours, at the 17 passport agencies has succeeded in reducing some processing delays that had threatened a huge number of overseas vacations for Americans. Trade interests related to tourism have been pressuring Congress, claiming the new rules might hurt their income.

People should also consider that more than 17 million passports are expected to be issued this year. The current crush in demand has probably not peaked yet. The potential exists for upwards of 20 million people needing passports by January 2008.

One bright area is in expedited applications, which require an additional fee. They are now again being processed in the normal two weeks, down from up to four weeks during most of this year. Standard applications are still taking up to ten weeks.

In March, the department warned a crush of new passport applicants - more than 1 million a month - had inundated its staff and caused extended delays at the peak of the January-to-April season when many people prepare to travel over the spring and summer.

Applications between last October and March rose 44% over the same period in 2005-2006, according to the State Department.

Approximately 74 million Americans now have valid U.S. passports.

To obtain a passport for the first time, people must to go in person to one of over 8,000 passport acceptance facilities located throughout the United States with two photographs of themselves, proof of U.S. citizenship, and a valid form of photo identification such as a driver's license.

Acceptance facilities include many Federal, state and probate courts, post offices, some public libraries and a number of county and municipal offices. There are also 13 regional passport agencies, and 1 Gateway City Agency, which serve customers who are traveling within 2 weeks (14 days), or who need foreign visas for travel. Appointments are required in such cases.

You must apply in person for a passport if:

• your expired passport is not in your possession

• your previous passport has expired and was issued more than 15 years ago

• your previous passport was issued when you were under age 16

• your currently valid passport has been lost or stolen

• your current or expired passport has been mutilated or damaged

• your name has been changed

In other cases, it is possible to apply by mail. If you can legally document your name change, it is also possible to apply for a passport renewal by mail.


Related:

New US passport rules create backlog as applications spike

U.S. relaxes new passport rules for American and Canadian children
New passport rules begin today for United States

Caribbean tourism industry faces hard times with new US passport rules
New passport requirements for the United States

Canada and the US to implement tighter border controls
US, Canadians required to carry travel documents