The U.S. State Dept. is on track to set the record for the highest demand year ever for passport applications, far surprising its previous highs in 2007 and 2017. While that is good news for a travel industry that has suffered through the lows of COVID-19, it could spell bad news for travelers.
According to the most recent update from the State Dept., that increase in demand, which has produced more than 500,000 applications during some weeks this winter, could easily mean more time waiting for passport renewal.
The update, published earlier in March, said that the current processing times are 8 to 11 weeks for routine service and 5 to 7 weeks for expedited service. Expedited service costs an additional $60 per application on top of the $130 application fee for a standard passport book (a passport card will cost an additional $30).
However, the bigger news for the update for future international travelers is that the State Dept. admitted that the timeline could soon get even worse for travelers.
“These processing times fluctuate throughout the year depending on demand and we anticipate that they will rise, especially as we approach the busier travel season,” the U.S. State Dept. said in its most recent update.
The State Dept. is promising to do what it can to keep those times under control—it said it is “aggressively recruiting and hiring across our passport agencies and centers” and has already had its team members “contribute tens of thousands of hours of overtime a month to issue the millions of passports sought by traveling Americans.”
It said it has also opened a satellite office to help process “the large number of applications” it is receiving.
The State Dept. had been allowing some to renew their passport online. The online portal, which was technically still in testing mode, was open as recently as January, giving passport holders the chance to do everything online. However, that portal is now closed and while the State Dept. told TMR that the plan is to roll it out fully sometime this year, that’s not an option for travelers right now.
The online system also had its fair share of issues—according to CBS News, some who submitted applications through the virtual portal in January are still waiting on renewal.