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Waiting for U.S. passport turns travel into purgatory and complicates summer planning

WASHINGTON (AP) — Looking for a valid U.S. passport for travel in 2023? Hopeful travelers, embark on a completely different journey before you even set foot near the airport.

As global travel returns to pre-pandemic record levels, feared backing up of U.S. passport applications hits a wall in government bureaucracy, which is too understaffed to handle the load. As a result, ambitious travelers in the U.S. and around the world say, at best, a maddening pre-trip purgatory defined by costly uncertainty.

Passport applicants with family dreams and big money at stake in slow motion pain of waiting, worrying, queuing, updating screens, complaining to Congress, paying surcharges and following wrong instructions describe. Some applicants purchase additional airline tickets to get their passports processed at their sitting location in another city in time for their originally booked flight.

The prospect of US officials denying the issue or even predicting when it will be eased is grim. They blame pandemic-related staffing shortages and this year’s online processing pause on prolonged wait times. As a result, the passport office is inundated with a record 500,000 applications per week. According to the State Department, the deluge is on pace to outstrip the 22 million passports issued last year.

Applicant accounts and interviews with The Associated Press describe a crisis management system that prioritizes urgent cases, such as those who travel for “life-or-death” reasons for government agencies or who have only a few days off from travel. ing. For others, the options are few and expensive.

So, 2023 travelers, if you still need a valid US passport, prepare for an unplanned trip to the nightmare zone.

From ‘I have enough time’ to ‘I’m still okay’ for big problems

Dallas-area florist Ginger Collier applied for four passports in early March ahead of a family vacation at the end of June. She said her clerk estimated the wait time to be eight to eleven weeks. They had gotten their passports a month before they needed them. “We have plenty of time,” Collier recalled thinking.

Since then, the State Department has extended the waiting time for issuance of regular passports to up to 13 weeks. “We’re still fine,” she thought.

Here’s what she had to say about two weeks before the trip. “can not sleep”. This comes after months of calling, putting on hold, pushing updates on her website, trying out her congressmen, and continuing to stress as her departure date looms. rice field. If she can’t get her family’s passports, she will lose $4,000, as well as the chance to meet one of her sons in Italy after her studies, she said.

“It’s nerve-wracking because I might lose contact with him,” she said. She calls a toll-free number every day, and is told that in about 90 minutes, she might get the necessary appointment at a passport office in another state, at most.

“I applied in plenty of time and I can’t afford four more tickets to anywhere in the US to get a passport,” she said. “How about if you just handle the passport?”

The U.S. government is the culprit: novel coronavirus

By March, worried travelers were asking for answers and then for help. Among them were representatives from the House and Senate, who were widely reported to have had more complaints from voters about delayed passports than any other issue at this year’s hearings.

The US Secretary of State had an answer of sorts.

Antony Brinken told a House of Commons subcommittee on March 23 that “coronavirus has basically knocked out a segment of the population from the system.” The government said it laid off contractors and redeployed full-time staff when travel demand almost disappeared during the pandemic. Handling passports.

Around the same time, the government also shut down the online update system “so that we can tweak it and improve it,” Brinken said. He said the ministry is trying to recruit staff as soon as possible, create more appointments and deal with the crisis in other ways.

Passport applicants turned to social media groups, toll-free numbers and lawmakers’ phone lines for questions, advice and cries for help. Facebook and WhatsApp groups were flooded with reports of bewilderment and outrage. Reddit has published eye-popping diaries, some in excess of 1,000 words, documenting application dates, deposits submitted, contacts, pending times, amounts spent, calls for advice, and more.

For the first time in 1952, the law required all American travelers abroad to present a passport, even in peacetime. Passports are now being processed at centers across the country and printed at secure facilities in Washington, D.C. and Mississippi, according to the Government Printing Office.

But over the past 30 years, the number of Americans with valid U.S. passports has grown about 10% faster than the population, according to Jay Zagorski, an economist at Boston University’s Questrom School of Management.

After passport delays derailed London travel plans earlier this year, Zagorsky said the number of U.S. passports per American has gone from about 3 per 100 in 1989 to about 46 per 100 in 2022. found to be on the rise. I am on the move.

“As a society gets richer, people say, ‘I want to visit other parts of the world,'” says Zagorski.

It’s not a picnic, even for Americans and the rest of the world

Obtaining a US visa and passport is less difficult at US consulates abroad.

One day in June, people in New Delhi are expected to wait 451 days for visa interviews, according to the website. Residents of São Paulo could wait 600 days or more. In Mexico City, avid travelers waited about 750 days. It was the 801st day in Bogota, Colombia.

The need is particularly acute in Israel. More than 200,000 people of both nationalities live in Israel. Even for newborns, both parents must be present before travel to the United States, with one appointment per her.

Shortly after her baby was born in December, Bathsheba Gatterman began looking for three appointments with the aim of attending a family celebration in Raleigh, North Carolina, in July.

The search for her three passports continued from January to June, days before the trip. And the problem was only resolved after Ms. Gattermann paid a small fee to join her WhatsApp group. This group would notify her of new appointments that were only available for a few seconds. She finally got her 3 appointments for 3 days in a row. This was the embodiment of bureaucracy.

“Three days in a row, we missed work and school and had to drive an hour and a half to Tel Aviv as a whole family with three young children,” she said. “I am very apprehensive about having a baby in Israel as an American citizen, knowing that I will not be able to take my baby on the plane until I am fortunate enough to have an appointment.”

There seems to have been some progress recently. Wait times for U.S. passport renewal appointments dropped from 360 days on June 8 to 90 days on July 2, according to the website.

A frustrating story from the trenches

Back in the US, Marni Larsen of Holladay, Utah, stood in line in Los Angeles, Calif., on June 14 to snatch her son’s passport. She hoped that the two would then meet the rest of her family, who had already left for Europe on schedule for a long-planned vacation.

She applied for her son’s passport two months ago and spent weeks checking for updates online or through a frustrating phone system. With the mid-June holiday looming, Mr. Larsen contacted the office of Senator Mitt Romney, where one of the four people Mr. Larsen said was in charge of issuing passports full-time was New. I was able to locate the document in Orleans.

It was supposed to be shipped to Los Angeles, so she made an appointment to receive it there. That meant Larsen had to buy new tickets for herself and her son to Los Angeles and reroute her trip from there to Rome. All were betting that her son’s passport was indeed delivered as promised.

“We’re just waiting in this huge queue of tons of people,” Larsen said. “It was a real nightmare.”

they succeeded. However, not everyone was so lucky.

Miranda Richter applied for passport renewal in person for herself and her husband, and on February 9, she and her neighbors applied for new passports to travel to Croatia on June 6. She eventually canceled and lost over $1,000.

Here’s what her timeline looked like: Passports for her husband and her daughter arrived at her 11 weeks old, but Richter’s photo was rejected. On May 4th she sent her new one via her priority mail. She then paid her $79 express fee, which was never charged to her credit card. Between May 30 and June 2, four days before her departure, Ms. Richter and her husband spent 12 hours at passport counters, calling parliamentarians, senators and third-party couriers. spent more than

Finally, she showed up in person at the Federal Building in downtown Houston, 30 minutes before the passport office opened. Richter said there were at least 100 people in line.

“I started crying when security asked me when I was going to make an appointment,” she recalls. she couldn’t get it. “It didn’t work.”

Finally: happy ending

“I just got my passport!” text by Ginger Collier.

Eventually, she showed up with her daughter-in-law at the Dallas passport office at 6:30 a.m., where they were divided into groups and lined up against a wall. Finally, they were called to the window, where the agent was “very kind” and took out all four of the family’s application forms, which had been in the office since March 17. More than seven hours later, the two were instructed to leave the office. This is to pick up your passport the next day.

They did – we had 4 days to spare.

“What a silly process,” says Collier. Still, he was happy to see his son again in Italy. “That was the best hug ever!” she texted last week.


Kerman reported from Tel Aviv, Israel, Santana from Washington, and Koenig from Dallas. Follow Kellman (http://twitter.com/APLaurie Kellman), Santana (http://twitter.com/russkygal) and Konig (http://twitter.com/airlinewriter) on Twitter.

https://fox40.com/news/national/ap-us-news/ap-the-wait-for-us-passports-is-creating-travel-purgatory-and-snarling-summer-plans/ Waiting for U.S. passport turns travel into purgatory and complicates summer planning

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