After more than a year of pandemic-related lockdowns, people are ready to travel again, but the State Department closed many of its offices last year in an effort to keep employees safe, and that’s created an enormous backlog to get or renew passports.
The department says a backlog of 1.5 million to two million passport requests means that most applications submitted now probably won’t be processed until the fall.
That pent-up demand for passports has swelled wait times to between 12 and 18 weeks, according to the State Department, prompting many to seek expedited appointments at understaffed passport offices. But those now take up to 12 weeks.
Rachel Arndt, deputy assistant secretary of state for passport services, has said the State Department is increasing staffing throughout the United States as pandemic restrictions are eased. But she said Americans needing to apply for or renew a passport should do so at least six months ahead of when they plan to travel.
Those without immediate travel plans are encouraged to renew their passports by mail.
Meanwhile, the State Department and Department of Homeland Security have taken steps to ease issues related to Americans abroad with expired passports who are trying to return home.
The departments announced in May that U.S. citizens who are overseas and whose passports expired on or after Jan. 1, 2020, would be able to use their documents to reenter the United States until Dec. 31, 2021. That provision doesn’t apply to travel between other countries unless it’s a transit stop.