Reps Smith and Sires introduced legislation to extend U.S. passports’ expiration date by one year

Backlog spurs long wait to get a passport renewed

Jonathan D. Salant – For Times of Trenton

As coronavirus-related travel restrictions subside, Americans wishing to travel overseas face a new hurdle: Their passports are expiring and a huge backlog of applications means it will take months to get new ones.

The State Department’s website says to expect a wait of 18 weeks to renew a passport or get a new one, though some of that is due to mail delays. Even expedited service will take 12 weeks, the State Department said. The department said there were about 2 million applications to be processed and urged Americans whose passports are expiring in the next six to 12 months to apply now to renew.

Expect to wait 18 weeks to renew a passport or get a new one, the State Department’s website warns.

To relieve the crunch, two New Jersey members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Reps. Chris Smith, R-4th Dist., and Albio Sires, D-8th Dist., have introduced legislation to temporarily extend existing passports for another year.

“As Americans resume regular travel, passport agencies have been overwhelmed by an urgent need for updated travel documents, ” Smith said.

“Temporarily extending the expiration of all valid U.S. passports would give the State Department the necessary time to catch up on processing requests and much-needed relief as it resumes its full capacity operations and adjusts to the growing number of Americans who need passports to travel for medical treatments, attend weddings and funerals, visit relatives overseas, conduct business and go on vacation.”

The extension would apply to all passports that expired during the pandemic or will expire through March 31, 2022.

The State Department attributed the long wait times to the normally heavy summer travel season and staffing restrictions brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We always see an upsurge during the summer travel season, ” a department official said.

“While this year isn’t as large as previous seasons because of the pandemic, we are still under COVID-19-related staffing restrictions.” Employees now are returning to their offices and being offered overtime.

The agency said it expected to have 97% of its workforce in place by mid-August, and contractors are being hired to help as well. Another bipartisan group of lawmakers would give the secretary of state 30 days to submit a plan to end the backlog.

The timeline under that plan should require passports to be issued in six to eight weeks under standard applications and two to three weeks for expedited applications. And the plan must be audited by the State Department inspector general within six months to ensure its effectiveness.

“While the COVID-19 crisis has affected the workflow for countless employees across the country, the passport backlog is particularly troubling, ” said one of the bill’s sponsors, House Oversight Reform Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.

“The State Department needs to be transparent about its plans to process these outstanding passport applications and demonstrate that they are doing everything possible to eliminate this backlog.”

The bill’s sponsors said their offices have fielded hundreds of calls from constituents seeking help to get their passports in time for long-delayed travel. Smith said he has helped 375 constituents, including 125 in the last two months, expedite their applications.

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