Passport Agencies around the country are overwhelmed with processing backlogs, but that did not stop them or the US Department of State from giving false hope to people desperately waiting to leave the US.
This is the year of the Passport Agency. Their services are the most sought after across the nation, as Americans slowly come out of the pandemic and begin to travel en masse again. As US tourism reawakens, it seems that this nation’s passport agencies did not get the memo. If you call the New York passport agency location, no one will answer your phone call and you can’t even leave a message, as the line disconnects you automatically. And neither does any other passport agency for that matter — or the US Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs — which is constantly updating its website with longer and longer wait times, even though millions of Americans had submitted their request for an application or renewal within the time frame that had been announced. These prolonged wait times, currently at 18 weeks for regular processing and up to 12 weeks for expedited services, are only the tip of the iceberg of the current situation.
My family and I are in the middle of our own nightmare, having applied for a passport for my child (a minor) at the post office and paid for expedited service back in May. The post office employee who took care of our application guaranteed that it would take 4-6 weeks total, including processing and mailing. Our child’s passport application is still sitting in the New Hampshire agency, listed as “in process”. After two years of not seeing family overseas, my husband and I check multiple times during the day to see if there is a change in status – but to date, nothing.
After trying more than once to contact our senators and local representatives to intervene on our behalf as our departure date came closer and closer, and tired of the same recording that advised that due to a high volume of phone calls we could only leave multiple voicemails and send emails, we became frustrated. We therefore took to Facebook, consulting blogs where information from others in the same situation was being disseminated. The frustration of Americans around the country is palpable. Word is spreading along social media that the US Department of State is no longer even responding to senators who try to intervene on their constituents’ behalf for the immediate issuance of a passport. After dozens of messages and emails to Senator Gillibrand, we finally received a response from her office, stating only that they sent the Department of State a written request and that they were waiting for a response; suffice it to say this did not offer us any piece of mind.
After reaching out to Senator Chuck Schumer’s office many, many times, we finally received a response after all of the radio silence, but it was nothing promising.
Congresswoman Grace Meng’s office in Washington DC (representing New York’s 6th district where we live) made a Congressional Inquiry last week, but has not heard back from the Department of State and informed us that they had little hope that they would anytime soon. The usual response to Congressional Inquiries is within 3 business days. The Congresswoman’s staff were the only ones that made a concerted effort to assist us.
The online world offers a wealth of information — such as passports are being processed at random (there does not seem to be a system in place, as some applicants that applied only a few weeks ago are getting their passports, while there are others who applied months ago that are still “in process”).
The public is becoming so desperate that passport agency appointments are being sold online to the highest bidder, usually starting around $400 — but this price increases on a regular basis, as concerned citizens who have spent thousands of dollars on plane tickets seek any means to have their passport processed in time. In speaking with Congresswoman Meng’s office in DC, we were told that 3 million passport applications and renewals are in processing limbo – at a complete standstill because of overwhelmed agencies.
Her office also advised us that it would be a good idea to change our travel plans. We have seen posts from the public showing the lengths to which people are going, booking flights to destinations such as Hawaii and Arizona for an appointment. Passport processing agencies are no longer accepting walk-ins, even if an emergency can be demonstrated; applicants without an appointment, no matter the situation, are turned away. Some days, if you’re lucky, you may be allowed to walk-in; it changes every day.
The only way that the public is receiving any type of information is through these online posts. There are pictures posted online, for instance, from the Connecticut processing agency, where the lines became so long so early on, that people started showing up at 4:00 or 5:00am, day after day, just to get in line with the hope of not being turned away.
Tension and frustration were running so high one day with people standing in line for hours and hours, that the police were called in. Not too long afterwards, there were posts online stating that the Department of State informed agencies to cease taking walk-ins.
Appointments are few and far between, and in New York, Connecticut and Philadelphia are no longer available, due to limited capacity. There is one glimmer of hope: The Los Angeles agency just opened its doors to walk-ins yesterday. Hopefully, others will follow, given the urgency at hand.
The following are some of the posts that can be found in a public group on Facebook and that speak to the utter chaos that is being felt across the US:
Why is it that the US Department of State did not foresee such chaos at the reopening of US passport agencies? Why is it that (according to Congresswoman Meng’s office), more staff will not be added until July?
The first post-COVID-19 summer and the Bureau of Consular Affairs did not foresee a major spike in numbers?
They did not strategize what that would mean for millions of Americans who are now stranded in the US with their summer travel plans ruined and their money lost?
As a frustrated American who has been dealing with this rollercoaster of red tape and misinformation, I am greatly disappointed in the way in which passport processing has been handled and our citizens treated. The Department of State needs to get its act together – quickly.
To those of you who are still waiting to receive a passport, don’t start bidding just yet – our daughter’s passport arrived this morning.