Unprecedented U.S. Passport Delays
Unprecedented U.S. Passport Delays

Unprecedented U.S. Passport Delays

Mobility Trends and Hot Topics

Published: May 23, 2023

The Pandemic may be officially over, but U.S. citizens in need of a passport are facing increased challenges with passport processing times.

Millions in Backlog

During COVID, there was a government backlog of 1.7 million U.S. passport applications. Today, the U.S. State Department reports “unprecedented” delays in processing documents due to software and staffing issues with some three million applications now backlogged.

Though the Department issued a record 22 million passports in 2022, the weekly volume of applications so far this year is 30 to 40 percent higher than last year with an influx of about 500,000 new passport applications received each week now.

Before COVID, it took about four-to-six weeks to process a passport after receipt. Today, after receiving the application, new estimates for processing and issuing passports are more than three-to-four months. Mailing times can add additional weeks to a month and some people report receiving their passports five months after applying in the traditional manner and even four months after paying for an expedited service.

Further, many countries have "six-month passport rules," where they will not accept entry by travelers whose passports will expire less than six months after the beginning of their trip.

Prepare Extra Early

In addition to the current backlog, 23 percent of U.S. adults say they plan on traveling internationally this summer – up from 20 percent in 2022. For U.S. citizens planning international travel this year, whether it is personal or business related, if you need a passport preparation should begin well in advance to avoid delay.

Just how far in advance? A minimum of four to six months when using expedited shipping is recommended. Consider the following:

  • Applicants should make certain details and supporting documents (like pictures and driver’s license) are 100 percent correct to avoid delays.
  • If travel is this October or later, applying the traditional way is likely safe, but your application should be submitted immediately with expedited shipping.  
  • If travel is this August or September, one can potentially still get a passport in time, but will need to pay a fee to expedite processing as well as expedited shipping, but there is no guarantee.

Checking on Passport Status

You can check the status of an in-process application using the link http://mytravel.go if it was renewed online and the link https://passportstatus.state.gov/ if the application was mailed. If there is a proven life-or-death emergency or urgent international travel coming up within 14 days, one can try making an in-person appointment at one of 26 passport agencies throughout the U.S., but an appointment to visit an agency is mandatory and the only way to make an appointment is by calling 1-877-487-2778 between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday. Spaces are limited and agencies do not accept walk-in services. 

Expediting Agencies

Expediting agencies are companies that assist with rushed passport applications and charge an additional fee on top of the standard passport application fee and expedited passport service fee. The fastest turnaround time is one week for $799 or a two-week option for $599, but even these can be limited in availability since expeditors rely on a subset of appointments being available.

In limited cases, expediting agencies may have extremely limited availability of next day or three day turnaround slots, but these are very few and often attract a much higher management fee from the agency according to EIG, one of NEI’s Visa and Immigration (V&I) service partners. There are various passport expediting agencies that offer these services, with each being allocated a certain number of faster appointments. So, if the agency first approached does not have any available appointments, it is worth checking with an alternative provider directly.

Newland Chase, another V&I service partner, suggested that companies may consider having their frequent business travelers obtain a secondary U.S. passport which would be valid for four years and could be quite helpful if an application is tied up in process and international travel is required.

NEI will continue to provide clients with updated information on this topic and manage relocating employees’ expectations accordingly. If you would like to discuss this passport situation further, please reach out to your NEI representative.