The U.S. Department of State said this week that its passport services, which have been effectively suspended since March to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, will restart in phases, with regions getting different restart dates depending on local conditions.
“We are continuously evaluating conditions at each of our locations and will resume operations in accordance with public health data for that region and with local government response measures,” the State Dept. said in a release.
“We are working to resume normal operations in phases. Each passport agency and center will open on a different date based on local conditions.” Phase One will have limited staff returning to work with a focus on “life-or-death emergencies” processed first.
The Dept. is encouraging those who are able need to wait to submit any passport renewal applications as “delays will continue”. Phase Two will have most of the staff returning to work and applications will then be processed on a “first in, first out” basis starting with the oldest applications.
All the rest of Passport Service staff will return to work during Phase Three. Staff will continue to work on applications on a first in, first out basis, though it will start offering expedited processing during this phase.
The staggered phase plan is designed to help keep its employees and its customers safe. Normally, over 18 million passports are processed each year by the Dept., and once services do come back online the backlog of applications will force some significant delays for applicants. “We are committed to working as hard as we can to process applications as quickly as possible, as soon as it is safe for us to do so.”