Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday urged the U.S. State Department to bring in emergency personnel to clear the passport backlog caused by high numbers of vaccinated Americans wanting to travel. Even if someone pays the expedited fee, the State Department said on Wednesday that the wait time for a passport or visa is between 3 to 4 and a half months.
“Unfortunately, we have a real problem. And that is that the State Department has been so backlogged because of COVID. People didn’t apply for any visas and any passports while COVID happened, and now there’s a deluge and they don’t have the personnel to do it,” said Schumer during a Sunday press conference from New York.
“So today we are calling on the State Department to put more to put some more emergency personnel in those two areas passports and visas, so people won’t have to wait months,” added Schumer.
Deputy Assistant Secretary for passport services Rachel Arndt held a press briefing on July 14 on the status of passport services.
“We as a department continue to recover from the effects of COVID-19 while we work to meet passport demand as U.S. citizens increasingly seek to travel overseas again,” said Arndt. “However, the pandemic’s disruptions continue to have a ripple effect on all steps of the passport process, including the amount of time it currently takes us to process a passport application.”
“This means people who submit new passport applications right now will not get their new passport until well into the fall. Last-minute passport appointments are extremely limited. U.S. citizens who wish to travel overseas this summer and do not currently have a passport may need to make alternate travel plans,” said Arndt.
Schumer said his office has been inundated with calls from constituents wanting help expediting passports. Other lawmakers have also been receiving calls about the passport backlog and want the problem alleviated. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said his constituents are facing huge challenges to getting passports renewed.
“I am frustrated to learn many of my constituents have missed important work travel, vacations, and even honeymoons because of the backlog of passports,” said McCaul in a recent press statement. “It is time the department return to full staffing levels to address the passport processing delays.”
Meanwhile, Schumer said while he understands the surge, he wants the state department to do more.
“They’ve never gotten more applications. … I talked to Secretary Blinken a week ago about this personally, and I don’t understand why they can’t do more. They have very good trained personnel, and all they have to do is shift several 100 over to this division on a temporary basis and make the backlog go away,” Schumer reiterated.
Schumer said that as Senate Majority Leader he will work with Congress to pass a funding bill to reimburse the state department for the increased cost for the emergency staffing.
“As we bring more staff back into the office, we will continue to be as transparent as possible in updating the American public on how long it will take to get a passport,” said Arndt.
Arndt told reporters that the passport backlog translates into about a million and a half to 2 million applications. She also said that parents who are applying for children for the first time must use passport acceptance facilities like post offices, libraries, and government offices.
“As to the hiring, we are doing dual-track, as you noted, bringing back additional folks who had been out of the office and we are also ramping up and surging to meet the higher demand levels. It does take some time to hire staff, but we—in the interim, we have—in addition to surging our staff for both contract and government, we are expanding our overtime work at all locations and we are continuing to increase the number of appointments available at all of our public passport agencies and centers,” Arndt said.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.