US passport delays mount amid post-Covid travel surge
July 7, 2023 10:58 AM
Nile Khow was in a rush to renew his US passport ahead of a trip overseas, but the passport office in his hometown of Houston was severely backlogged.
So the 20-year-old flew across the country to New York, where his father had managed to book an appointment at a local passport agency.
"I don't know how he did it," the young man said one recent morning in Manhattan, after he submitted his documents in time to catch a flight to London the same evening.
With passport facilities across the United States overloaded due to a post-pandemic tourism rush and a faltering new software system, Americans are facing long wait times, busy queues and travel delays.
David Alwadish, cofounder of passport expediting service ItsEasy, says he hasn't seen such a crunch in more than 40 years in the business.
"It's an ugly perfect storm," Alwadish told AFP. "It feels like if all of the United States had decided they are going to renew their passports and go someplace."
- Months wait -
Many Americans, after two years stuck at home during the pandemic, are now eager to travel abroad and are applying to renew their passports in droves.
Further complicating the situation is a new online application system that was suspended due to safety concerns, causing additional delays.
In March, the State Department, the government agency that hands out passports to Americans, said that renewing or getting a new passport could take between 10 and 13 weeks, double the time it took before Covid.
Getting a passport with an expedited procedure could take from 7 to 9 weeks and cost an additional $60 (55 euros), it said.
Since the beginning of the year, Americans have been filing an average of 500,000 passport requests per week, 30 percent more than last year, Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently told a congressional hearing.
- 'Everybody wants to travel' -
Expediting the procedure can be costly. Alwadish charges $940 to get a passport ready in one day, while other firms can charge up to $2,500, he said.
Those who cannot afford the extra fees risk having their vacation plans ruined.
Linda, a 46-year-old woman who declined to give her last name, applied for fresh passports for her family in April. While she and her husband received their documents in June, their children did not.
The family is scheduled to fly on vacation to the Caribbean island of Aruba this week and Linda was hoping she can convince officials to issue passports to her children if she shows them that plane tickets have already been booked.
"During Covid people weren't traveling," Linda said with frustration. "But now the Covid is over, everybody wants to travel."