By Kylie Atwood, CNN
(CNN) — The US State Department says it is not expecting to reduce passport processing times to pre-pandemic levels until the end of the year, news that is likely to frustrate travelers who have had their summer travel plans disrupted by having to factor in waiting months to get a new passport before going abroad.
“We are working hard to get back to our pre-pandemic processing times by the end of calendar year 2023,” a State Department spokesperson said. “We will update our website with the current processing times as we make progress towards this goal.”
In March, the department increased the processing time for new passports to 10 to 13 weeks for routine processing and seven to nine weeks for expedited processing, which costs an additional $60. The wait-time before the pandemic was two to three weeks for expedited cases and six to eight weeks for routine passport applications.
Factoring in major passport processing delays is just one of many obstacles hitting the travel plans of Americans this summer. CNN has reported on thousands of flights being cancelled across the US and they are more expensive, as are hotels and rental cars, than prior to the pandemic.
The State Department – which says that it is meeting the current promised processing times in “the vast majority of cases” – has been putting additional resources towards meeting the challenge of a major increase in applications.
“We are focused on hiring, training, and retaining staff to address the current surge in demand. We have increased staffing levels and have hundreds of additional staff in the hiring pipeline,” the spokesperson said. “Our staff is working tens of thousands of hours of overtime a month. In fact, from January through June, we authorized 30,000-40,000 overtime hours each month.”
Secretary of State Tony Blinken has addressed the “unprecedented demands” for passports. He told Congress earlier this year that the department is “getting 500,000 applications a week for passports,” which is 30% to 40% more applicants this year than last year.
Blinken also said that the department had launched a pilot online renewal platform so Americans who already have a passport can renew online, but added that it was halted to fine tune and improve it before being rolled out.
Now, the spokesperson says that the department expects online passport renewal system to be available to the public at the end of the year.
“Once fully launched, we expect five million customers to be eligible to use this platform each year to renew their passports. We estimate this would represent two-thirds of all renewals and roughly 25 percent of all applications received. In time, OPR (online passport renewals) will save Americans time and effort, making it more convenient to renew their passports,” the spokesperson said.
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