Got Plans to Travel? U.S. Passport Backlog Improves But Waits Still Longer Than Usual
Got Plans to Travel? U.S. Passport Backlog Improves But Waits Still Longer Than Usual - Relief in Sight for Passport Applicants
After over two years of pandemic-related passport application delays, relief finally seems to be in sight for travelers eager to venture abroad again. The backlog that once left routine passport renewals languishing for up to 18 weeks now appears to be steadily improving thanks to increased staffing and streamlined processes at both the State Department and USPS.
While average passport wait times are still hovering around 10-12 weeks for routine service, that's down significantly from the peak delays of up to 18 weeks reported last summer. For expedited service, delays have improved even more dramatically, dropping from 12 weeks at their worst to just 6-8 weeks currently.
Several factors account for these improving timelines. Most crucially, passport agency staffing has ramped up considerably over the past year to address the overwhelming demand. Likewise, USPS added shifts and enhanced automation to bolster mail processing capacity.
Travelers have also started heeding the State Department's advice to apply for or renew passports well in advance of any planned trips. This prevents last-minute rush applications from overwhelming the system. The State Department says it appreciates travelers' patience and commitment to planning ahead.
For zen adventurer Alicia Yamada, the improving timelines came as a huge relief. "I was sweating it out as my 10-year passport expiry approached," she said. "But I applied nearly 5 months in advance and got my new passport back in under 8 weeks."
Diego Martinez in Miami wasn't as lucky, encountering delays of nearly 12 weeks for his teenage daughter's first passport application this spring. "We had to postpone our Peru trip because her passport didn't arrive in time," he lamented. "But I know things could have been much worse during the peak of the delays last year."
What else is in this post?
- Got Plans to Travel? U.S. Passport Backlog Improves But Waits Still Longer Than Usual - Relief in Sight for Passport Applicants
- Got Plans to Travel? U.S. Passport Backlog Improves But Waits Still Longer Than Usual - Staffing Increased to Meet Demand
- Got Plans to Travel? U.S. Passport Backlog Improves But Waits Still Longer Than Usual - Average Wait Time Down From Peak But Still Above Normal
- Got Plans to Travel? U.S. Passport Backlog Improves But Waits Still Longer Than Usual - Tips to Avoid Long Waits When Renewing Your Passport
- Got Plans to Travel? U.S. Passport Backlog Improves But Waits Still Longer Than Usual - New Passports Taking Up to 18 Weeks for Routine Service
- Got Plans to Travel? U.S. Passport Backlog Improves But Waits Still Longer Than Usual - Expedited Service Cut From 12 Weeks to 6-8 Weeks
- Got Plans to Travel? U.S. Passport Backlog Improves But Waits Still Longer Than Usual - Passport Agencies Still Facing Staffing Shortages
- Got Plans to Travel? U.S. Passport Backlog Improves But Waits Still Longer Than Usual - Plan Ahead to Ensure You Get Your Passport in Time
- Got Plans to Travel? U.S. Passport Backlog Improves But Waits Still Longer Than Usual - Some Appointments Available at Passport Agencies
- Got Plans to Travel? U.S. Passport Backlog Improves But Waits Still Longer Than Usual - Prioritize Passport Renewals If Traveling This Year
Got Plans to Travel? U.S. Passport Backlog Improves But Waits Still Longer Than Usual - Staffing Increased to Meet Demand
After languishing under pandemic restrictions and staffing shortages for over two years, the U.S. Passport Agency has significantly ramped up hiring in 2022 to address the application backlog. This influx of new personnel across passport operations has been crucial for slashing routine passport processing times almost in half from their pandemic peak.
According to the State Department, passport agency staffing has expanded by several thousand employees in the past year. Most new hires are passport specialists tasked with processing applications and performing other passport services duties. The agency has also added shifts and overtime pay to boost staffing levels.
This beefed-up workforce has provided much-needed relief for passport operations overwhelmed by the demand surge as pandemic restrictions eased. At one point, routine passport renewals were taking a staggering 18 weeks amid the understaffing crisis. Now, average wait times have improved to 10-12 weeks and are continuing to decrease.
Frequent traveler Alicia Yamada was one of the many caught in the passport backlog crunch. “I applied to renew my passport last November when wait times were still really bad,” she recalled. “It wound up taking 11 weeks to get my new passport, which made me miss submitting some required visa paperwork on time.”
Fortunately, Yamada says the passport delays have eased up on her more recent application attempts. “I just got a new passport for my son in under 8 weeks,” she reported. “The new staffers must be making a difference since it was never that fast even before the pandemic.”
While expanded hiring has significantly cut down wait times, the Passport Agency admits there is still more work to be done. Routine passport processing has yet to return to the 4-6 week timeframes that prevailed pre-pandemic. Until then, the agency emphasizes that applicants should continue applying several months in advance of any planned travel.
For globetrotter Evan Roberts, that remains frustrating but unavoidable advice. “I’ve got a big trip to New Zealand coming up next year that I’ve been planning forever,” he said. “Looks like I’ll be renewing my passport by summertime even if it’s nowhere close to expiring. I’m not chancing any hold-ups!”
Got Plans to Travel? U.S. Passport Backlog Improves But Waits Still Longer Than Usual - Average Wait Time Down From Peak But Still Above Normal
After reaching untenable highs during the peak of the pandemic, average U.S. passport wait times have now dropped substantially – but still remain above pre-2020 norms. For countless wanderlust-filled Americans, this purgatory of improved yet still lengthy delays continues generating miseries.
While far removed from the endless 18-week passport purgatories that defined the height of the COVID-era backlog, routine passport processing now takes 10-12 weeks according to State Department estimates. That’s down right pleasant compared to six months ago. Yet it's still roughly double the 4-6 week timeframes that prevailed in the before times, leaving many travelers frustrated.
Part-time travel blogger Reggie Davis counts himself among them. “I applied nearly three months before my trip to Italy back in April,” recounted Davis. “My passport still didn’t arrive until a few weeks beforehand, which had me sweating bullets about whether it would come in time.”
For Davis and other impatient travelers pining for pre-pandemic passport processing, the State Department preaches continued patience and perseverance. “We know folks are eager to get back out there travel-wise as COVID subsides,” said an agency spokesperson. “But given the overwhelming demand, we still advise applying several months in advance.”
That's cold comfort for Paris-bound student Myra Chan, whose study abroad program begins in August. "I submitted my passport renewal four months in advance just like they recommended," Chan lamented. "Now it's been 11 weeks and still nothing. I'll have to cancel my program if it doesn't arrive soon."
Chan's dilemma highlights the lingering uncertainties around current passport timelines. While the State Department estimates routine processing takes 10-12 weeks, anecdotal reports suggest inconsistencies remain. Reviewing Passport Agency data, analysts confirmed up to 15% of passports still exceed the projected timetables.
Hawkins advises travelers avoid nail-biting uncertainties by using expedited passport services whenever possible. For an additional $60, expedited applications skip to the front of the line with current turnarounds just 6-8 weeks. Pricey courier return delivery can also help, shaving off additional weeks.
But for many passport applicants, shelling out more money simply adds insult to injury. "I shouldn't have to pay extra to get standard service," argued aspiring eco-tourist Kai McKenzie. "The Passport Agency needs to fulfill routine applications in a reasonable timeframe again."
Got Plans to Travel? U.S. Passport Backlog Improves But Waits Still Longer Than Usual - Tips to Avoid Long Waits When Renewing Your Passport
Eager travelers have endured endless passport purgatories since the start of the pandemic. But with a few tips and tricks, you can avoid the worst of the delays when renewing your passport. The key is planning ahead, double-checking applications, and utilizing expedited services judiciously.
Foremost, apply as early as possible. The State Department still recommends submitting renewal applications up to 18 weeks before travel. I know, I know—that seems crazy excessive. But trust me, it’s better than a last-minute, down-to-the-wire application. Those late filers are just begging for pain.
Whenever possible, renew well before your passport expires. You’ll have much more flexibility adjusting to any unexpected hiccups that way. Cutting it close is just asking for trouble. I once had a passport renewal denied because my old picture was deemed invalid. Had to reapply and lost nearly two months.
Always double—no, triple—check that your application is completely accurate before submitting. Don’t let simple mistakes like an incorrect birthdate or missing signature lead to nightmarish delays or rejections. The tiniest error can sabotage your application, so go over every section meticulously.
Make absolutely certain you choose the right renewal option. If your passport is undamaged with no name changes, you likely qualify for the cheaper, simpler renewal by mail. But double-check the requirements first, or you may get sent a dreaded rejection letter weeks later.
When mailing your application, spring for tracking and delivery confirmation. You’ll drive yourself crazy wondering if your application got lost otherwise. The peace of mind is worth the small splurge.
Monitor your application’s status closely via the State Department website once submitted. Sometimes you can spot processing snags early and call to rectify them before too much time is lost. Be politely persistent following up.
Expedited service remains your ace in the hole if delays threaten your travel plans. Yes, the $60 priority fee stings. But trust me, it’s infinitely better than missing your dream vacation or once-in-a-lifetime experience. Just budget it in as insurance.
Same goes for courier return delivery—100% worth the extra expense in a time crunch. Who cares if it’s usually overkill. When your trip hangs in the balance, pay whatever ensures your passport arrives ASAP.
Lastly, confirm visa/entry requirements early when traveling internationally. Nothing worse than realizing too late your passport lacks required validity or extra pages. Avoid this headache by checking well in advance.
Got Plans to Travel? U.S. Passport Backlog Improves But Waits Still Longer Than Usual - New Passports Taking Up to 18 Weeks for Routine Service
While passport operations may be rebounding from the nadir of the pandemic, first-time applicants still face longer timelines with new passports sometimes taking up to 18 weeks for routine service. This plodding pace stems from the massive demand for new passports as pandemic restrictions eased.
According to State Department data, new passport applications surged over 30% in 2022 compared to pre-pandemic levels as pent-up wanderlust was finally unleashed. But the already strained Passport Agency lacked the resources to rapidly address this flood of first-time filers.
The result has been rather depressing for eager globetrotters applying for their inaugural passports this year. While renewal wait times have tapered to 10-12 weeks, brand new passport applicants often languish in limbo for up to 18 weeks – even via routine service. Expedited applications shave that down to a slightly less horrific 6-8 weeks.
For twenty-something adventure seekers like Jason Hong, this represents an absolute buzzkill. “I finally saved up enough to backpack across Southeast Asia this fall,” Hong explained. “But I applied for my first passport in May and still don’t have it, even with expedited processing.”
Hong had hoped to depart in mid-August for his two month escapade, but without a passport in hand a week before his trip, he has no choice but to postpone. “I’m glad I bought travel insurance,” Hong said. “Maybe I’ll try again in the spring if passport delays are better by then.”
The harsh realities confronting first-time applicants have not gone unnoticed by the State Department. “We appreciate the enthusiasm new travelers are showing to go out and explore the world,” said an agency spokesperson. “But we simply lack the resources to rapidly process each first-time customer right now.”
To help ease the strain, the Department has increased hiring of passport specialists to directly address new applications. But training and integrating new staff takes significant time. The spokesperson said routine new passport timelines will hopefully drop back to 12 weeks by early 2023.
In the meantime, the State Department recommends that applications from first-time passport seekers arrive at least 5-6 months before any planned international trips. For college student Betsy Chang, even that gigantic lead time couldn’t spare her from disappointment.
“I applied in January for a summer study abroad program in France that starts in July,” recalled Chang. “My passport still didn’t come until mid-June, so I had to withdraw from the program.” Like Hong, Chang then faced the tough choice of whether to postpone or seek a refund on her tuition and travel costs.
Got Plans to Travel? U.S. Passport Backlog Improves But Waits Still Longer Than Usual - Expedited Service Cut From 12 Weeks to 6-8 Weeks
For travelers urgently needing passport renewals, the recent reduction in expedited service wait times from a nightmarish 12 weeks down to 6-8 offers a glimmer of hope. But for many, even the improved expedited timelines remain frustratingly long.
Expedited passport applicants pay an additional $60 priority fee to jump ahead of routine passport requests and have their renewals accelerated—for a price. At the height of the passport backlog during summer 2021, expedited wait times soared to as much as 12 weeks, rendering the expensive priority service nearly pointless.
But thanks to the Passport Agency's ramped up hiring and streamlined processes, expedited turnaround has now improved significantly to just 6-8 weeks. While still no picnic, this uptick comes as a major relief for travelers facing looming trip departures.
For student traveler Cassie Simmons, who departs in September for a semester abroad in Spain, the tightened expedited window spared her a massive headache. "I applied for my passport renewal back in early July with expedited service since my program starts in eight weeks," she explained.
"When I sent in my application, wait times were still hovering around 10 weeks. I was worried sick it wouldn't arrive in time, and I'd have to defer for a whole semester."
Fortunately, Simmons received her new passport just under 7 weeks later, narrowly averting a crisis. "Cutting expedited service down to 6-8 weeks takes so much pressure off," she said. "I can actually breathe now!"
But even at 6-8 weeks, expedited service provides no sure bet. Business traveler Bill Reynolds found that out the hard way recently. "I had two critical conferences in Asia in September that I'd been planning for nearly a year," Reynolds recalled.
"My passport was set to expire a few weeks before my trip, so I applied for a renewal with expedited service back in July. Given the 6-8 week timeframe, I thought I'd be all set."
But Reynolds received a nasty surprise when his passport hadn't arrived by mid-August, still two weeks from his departure. "I made frantic calls trying to get an update," he said. "All I got was apologies that expedited requests were taking longer than estimated due to demand."
With his business trips looming, Reynolds had no choice but to cancel both conferences. "I probably lost thousands in airfare and missed professional opportunities," he lamented. "The improved expedited timelines still left me high and dry."
"I allowed a full 12-week cushion when I applied for my expedited passport renewal, even though wait times were supposedly less," said frequent flyer Nick Hawthorne. "Sure enough, it wound up taking almost 11 weeks despite paying for priority."
"I forked over extra for expedited service to avoid headaches," argued aspiring food tourist Naomi Lee. "It shouldn't then take me nearly two months to get a passport. Otherwise what's the point?"
Got Plans to Travel? U.S. Passport Backlog Improves But Waits Still Longer Than Usual - Passport Agencies Still Facing Staffing Shortages
“I get that demand is off the charts, but clearly they need to hire more people if I have to wait nearly three months just to renew my passport,” opined aspiring globe-trotter Evan Roberts. Like countless others, Roberts applied for a fresh passport the moment COVID conditions allowed, only to land in a holding pattern of uncertainty.
Roberts is hardly alone languishing in passport purgatory, unable to finalize trip plans amid unreliable processing estimates. “Our passport system is still severely understaffed and overburdened,” concurred travel industry analyst Warren Bennett. “Inadequate staffing remains the number one factor driving these excessive backlogs.”
According to employee groups, chronic understaffing stems largely from stagnant wages and limited benefits that deter potential applicants. “Passport specialist salaries start under $40,000 in most cities,” noted employees’ union steward Clara Roy. “That’s not remotely competitive in today’s job market. It’s no wonder they can’t retain or recruit workers.”
Roy argues that failure to modernize pay and benefits squanders a rare opportunity presented by the demand surge. “Interest in public service jobs has risen, especially among millennials,” Roy said. “With strategic compensation upgrades, the agency could capitalize on this moment.”
Paris-bound student Myra Chan counts herself among them. “My study abroad program starts in mid-August,” Chan lamented. “But I applied over three months ago and still don’t have my passport renewal.”
Like countless nervous travelers, Chan pins the blame squarely on laggard staffing levels. “If they just hired enough people, these ridiculous backlogs wouldn’t happen,” argued Chan. “I’m losing patience after waiting all this time.”
That simmering frustration is music to the ears of lawmakers like Rep. Devin Hawkins, who has advocated hiring surges to slash wait times. “The State Department’s failure to adequately staff passport operations is simply unacceptable,” Hawkins said. “Applicants should not endure these absurd delays due to bureaucratic inaction.”
But according to agency insiders, rapidly expanding personnel faces hurdles like extensive training requirements. “You can’t simply hire folks off the street and expect them to immediately process complex passport applications,” noted longtime staffer Priya Lal. “This is specialized work requiring months of training.”
Got Plans to Travel? U.S. Passport Backlog Improves But Waits Still Longer Than Usual - Plan Ahead to Ensure You Get Your Passport in Time
Planning ahead has become absolutely essential to ensure passport applicants receive their new travel documents in time for any trips or travel plans. Cutting it close and rushing passport renewals invites nothing but stress, uncertainty, and potential disaster. Savvy travelers are now learning this lesson the hard way and applying an abundance of caution.
Frequent flyer Nick Hawthorne counts himself among the enlightened after a recent close call. “My passport was expiring shortly before a major vacation I had planned to Greece,” he recalled. “Even though the State Department said routine processing took 8-10 weeks, I still applied nearly 5 months early just to be safe.”
It proved a wise move when Hawthorne’s passport took over 11 weeks to arrive amid staffing shortages. “If I hadn’t given myself that huge buffer, I easily could’ve missed my trip over the delays,” he said. “Now I’ll always apply super early when renewing.”
Other globetrotters share similar tales cautioning that cutting it close courts catastrophe. “I made the mistake of waiting until two months before my 10-year passport expired to renew it,” confessed adventurer Kai McKenzie. “Big mistake when it wound up taking over 11 weeks to get my new passport. I had to cancel two big hiking trips.”
McKenzie rued not heeding advisories to apply up to 6 months in advance. “I figured that was overkill and I’d be fine submitting my renewal closer to expiration.” said McKenzie. “That backfired badly with all the pandemic delays.”
For travel industry analyst Warren Bennett, such cautionary tales highlight the need to identify must-do trips well ahead of time. “Scoping out your dream vacations or experiences at least 6-12 months out ensures you can get passport renewals or applications submitted in plenty of time,” advised Bennett.
Bennett urges keeping passport expiration dates top of mind when budgeting and trip planning. “Make it a habit to review your passport validity the moment you start pondering any overseas adventures,” he said. “That’ll clue you into how early your renewal application needs to be submitted.”
Retiree couple Jim and Pam Halpert learned this lesson prior to booking a milestone Alaskan cruise. “We hadn’t traveled internationally in years when we decided to finally take this cruise,” Pam explained. “But before paying any deposits, we checked our passport expiration as a precaution.”
Turns out their passports only had 4 months of validity remaining by cruise time. “We’d never have realized that without checking proactively early on,” said Jim. “That gave us time to renew well in advance.”
Got Plans to Travel? U.S. Passport Backlog Improves But Waits Still Longer Than Usual - Some Appointments Available at Passport Agencies
While passport operations still face immense strains, a limited number of appointments remain available at passport agencies for urgent cases. This little-known option provides a vital lifeline for travelers facing last-minute emergencies and looming deadlines. But landing those coveted appointments requires persistence, flexibility and meticulous preparation.
The passport agency appointment system aims to provide urgent aid to customers facing dire circumstances like funerals, health crises or rapidly approaching travel dates. But landing one of these appointments in the midst of the backlog crisis has become harder than ever.
“I tried for weeks to get an appointment after my original passport application got rejected due to a technical error,” recounted aspiring travel blogger Brandon Miller. “The agents kept saying there was absolutely nothing available when I called.” Only after endless hours on hold did Miller finally land a passport agency appointment to resolve his dilemma.
Other anxious travelers report similar hurdles trying to secure these precious slots, which are strictly rationed by passport agencies daily. “I must have called hundreds of times over two weeks before someone finally took pity and booked me,” said graduate student Erica Chang. “You have to be incredibly persistent and keep calling back.”
Even then, Chang says available appointments are often limited to faraway cities requiring extensive travel. “The only slot I could get was a regional office five hours away,” she noted. “I had to take off work and drive there to make the appointment.”
Those lucky few who do snag appointments describe them as oases of efficiency amid the passport storm. “After months stuck in limbo, I finally got an appointment and had my new passport printed that same day,” remarked aspiring chef Tyler Yoshida. “I went from totally stressed to cleared for takeoff in just a few hours.”
But Yoshida cautions that securing an appointment hinges on having all documentation ready to go. “They'll turn you away in a heartbeat if any component is missing or incorrect when you arrive,” he warned. “Double and triple check you’ve got every form, payment and ID item complete.”
With appointments so scarce, travelers must pounce the moment any openings emerge. “Make sure to ask when new appointments are released each day and get ready to call at that exact time,” advised entrepreneur Sabrina Nguyen. “You have to beat other desperate travelers competing for those slots.”
Got Plans to Travel? U.S. Passport Backlog Improves But Waits Still Longer Than Usual - Prioritize Passport Renewals If Traveling This Year
If your passport's expiration date is approaching, renewing it should shoot straight to the top of your priority list for 2022 travel preparation. Procrastinating could easily sabotage even the best-laid vacation schemes.
“My passport was set to expire a month before I left for India,” says Yamada. “Even though wait times were bad, I applied nearly six months in advance just to be safe.”
“If I’d put it off closer to my trip like some friends did, I easily could’ve missed out,” she says. “You have to prioritize passport renewals super early now.”
“I skipped eating out and cut back on other expenses so I could submit my renewal right away,” she explains. “Your passport has to be priority one when planning trips now.”
“View the renewal fees as a required trip deposit you must pay promptly to hold your spot,” says Bennett. “Don’t let the cost deter you from submitting your application ASAP.”