The U.S. State Department is adding staff to cope with a backlog of as many as 2 million passport applications with the COVID-19 pandemic having forced Americans to wait 12 to 18 weeks for the travel documents, the department said on Wednesday.
Rachel Arndt, deputy assistant secretary for Passport Services in the department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, told reporters that having been vaccinated, many more Americans than usual were applying for passports to travel overseas.
Pandemic restrictions that had kept officials from being physically present in passport offices, often a requirement for issuing the documents, had created a backlog of between 1.5 million and 2 million, Arndt said.
Those submitting applications now will not get new passports until “well into the fall,” she said, adding that even those paying $60 for expedited processing were waiting 12 weeks, depending on mailing time.
“We are surging staff, both adjudicators and contractors, back into the office at agencies across the country as COVID restrictions ease, but it will take time for our wait times to fall from the current 12 to 18 weeks to pre-pandemic levels,” she said.
“U.S. citizens who wish to travel overseas this summer and do not currently have a passport may need to make alternate travel plans.”
(Reporting by Simon Lewis;Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller)