Feds warn it could take months to get a passport due to large backlog

ByMichael Finney and Renee Koury via KGO logo
Tuesday, December 7, 2021
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Despite a new COVID variant, requests for passports are surging. How far ahead do you need to apply?

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Americans set pandemic records for travel over Thanksgiving, and despite a new COVID variant, many are already planning winter and summer trips ahead. Not only are there new travel restrictions to think about, but now the State Department reports a surge of applications for passports, and a backlog of 800,000 people waiting for them.

It led to some anxious moments for an East Bay couple trying to get to a family reunion in Mexico.

Rosie and David Yandell were all set for the family gathering - they got their COVID boosters, bought airline tickets and applied to renew their passports.

They each paid an extra $60 for expedited service.

RELATED: US shuts down online passport booking system amid massive backlog

"We didn't want to miss this occasion; it was very important to us and to our family. And it worked fine for Rosie. It didn't work at all for me." said David.

Rosie got her passport in just four weeks. But David's never came.

"So we had to deal with a bureaucracy with some ghost on the other end, not knowing who was replying to us, or if it was a robot or a real person," he said.

Finally David received an email saying his application was incomplete - but didn't say why. So he called.

"They said I didn't sign all parts of it. You can't talk to anybody, so it's hard to say if that was true or not," he said.

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He mailed in another application, but time was ticking, and still no passport.

"I didn't know if it would come, or not. So I was trying to do everything I could think of, and 7 On Your Side helped out," said David.

Andres Rodriguez is with the U.S. Consular Bureau.

"There was a large backlog of about 2 million applications over the summer but through lots of overtime and getting folks back into the office, we have reduced that number so people don't miss their trips," Rodriguez said. The State Department says the backlog has now been whittled to about 800,000.

Passport applications dropped during the pandemic, from 21 million in 2019, to just 11 million last year, then surged to about 15 million this year.

"A lot of people probably waited or did not apply during COVID because they weren't traveling, so now we have seen a buildup in applications as vaccines have rolled out," Rodriguez said.

Passport bureaus that closed during the pandemic are ramping back up. Still, officials say you should apply up to six months ahead of a trip. That allows time to gather documents, mail them in and wait for review.

RELATED: Will travel insurance cover you if you catch COVID abroad?

Processing takes up to 11 weeks for regular service, or up to 7 weeks for expedited service.

And officials warn, avoid mistakes that cause delays. The most common problems? An unacceptable passport photo, or a missing signature.

7 On Your Side asked the passport office about David's case. It found his application and sent his passport right away.

"It just showed up in the mail. But I was excited," David said.

If your application seems stuck in limbo, you can go to the State Department's online passport tracker and look up the status. If you still don't receive it, there is a number to call for information.

Main website for information about U.S. passports: www.travel.state.gov

National Passport Information Center: 1-877-487-2778 (press 3)

Passport Tracker: www.passportstatus.state.gov

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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