Americans seeking to renew their passports ahead of their planned summer travel are experiencing shockingly long wait times.
The State Department has been able to process routine applications between 10 weeks and 13 weeks after their submissions, while expedited applications currently take between 7 weeks and 9 weeks, according to a statement from the Bureau of Consular Affairs. The office warned that the State Department may also take as many as 2 weeks to receive mailed applications and another 2 weeks for the completed passport to be mailed back to the holder.
Employees tasked with handling passport applications are witnessing “unprecedented demand” after lockdown measures and vaccine mandates across the world limited the scope of international travel. “We are aggressively recruiting and hiring across our passport agencies and centers. Our passport team members nationwide contribute tens of thousands of hours of overtime a month to issue the millions of passports sought by traveling Americans,” the Bureau of Consular Affairs said. “We have opened a satellite office to help process the large number of applications we are receiving.”
Passport application rates are generally highest in the months before summer travel.
American travel spending rose 9% between February 2022 and February 2023, according to data from the United States Travel Association, while spending levels between February 2019 and February 2023 increased 5%, implying that expenditures reached amounts previously seen before the lockdown-induced recession. Overseas visitations, on the other hand, were 31% below levels recorded in February 2019, marking a slight improvement from the previous month.
The State Department recently concluded a test of an online passport renewal process and is working to implement improvements before a nationwide rollout sometime this year. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month that his agency is receiving 500,000 new passport applications each week, marking an increase of 30% to 40% from rates seen last year.
“We were authorizing overtime, we’ve opened satellite offices, we’re organizing cores at the headquarters to assist in processing, processing times,” Blinken told members of the House Appropriations Committee. “I think it’s really important that we be as clear and transparent as possible with people who are looking for passports to know what they can expect.”
The lockdown-induced recession caused a labor shortage in both the public and private sectors, worsening inflation as employers struggle to operate and increase pay to remain competitive in the job market. President Joe Biden recently announced an overall pay raise of 4.1% for some 2.1 million federal employees as well as an average 0.5% locality-based pay raise.
The federal government spent approximately $215 billion in fiscal year 2016 compensating federal civilian employees, according to a report from the Congressional Budget Office. Federal employees usually receive periodic wage increases on the basis of factors such as performance, longevity, and changes in private sector pay.
Similar pressures have impacted airlines as commercial pilots retired amid the slowdown in air travel demand. American carriers presently lack some 12,000 pilots, even as 14,000 pilots will be forced to leave the workforce over the next five years because of a federal law mandating that they retire by 65 years old, according to a study by Oliver Wyman.