LOS ANGELES (AP) – Britt Johnson showed up at the West Los Angeles Federal Building around midnight, hoping to apply for a rushed passport when the office opened at 7 a.m.
Johnson, desperate to visit a dying relative in Mexico, stood in line with hundreds of would-be travelers Thursday morning when a security guard announced that passers-by would no longer be accepted there for passport applications.
The disappointment with the crowd was felt in passport offices across the US, overwhelmed by people ready to travel again as COVID-19 restrictions have been gradually lifted over the past few months.
The pent-up demand for passports has swollen waiting times to 12 to 18 weeks, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This has led many, like Johnson, to seek expedited appointments in understaffed passport offices. These now take up to 12 weeks.
“It’s pretty urgent,” Johnson said of his travel plans. “That’s pretty important to me right now. So I’ll do my best to get this thing. “
Now his only option for a face-to-face appointment is to make it online or by phone. Marvella Carson, who was hoping to attend a cousin’s wedding in Jamaica, said she tried both, to no avail.
“You can’t get through. You cannot get to their website. You can’t get through the phone, ”said Carson, waiting in front of the federal building in Los Angeles.
She resigned herself to the fact that she probably won’t do the wedding.
After more than a year of pandemic lockdowns, people are ready to travel again, but the State Department closed many of its offices last year to keep staff safe, leaving a huge backlog.
This is due to the impact of the pandemic, which has caused extreme disruption to the process at domestic exhibition facilities and foreign embassies and consulates.
A backlog of 1.5 to 2 million passport applications means that most of the applications now submitted are not expected to be processed until the fall, the ministry says.
Rachel Arndt, assistant assistant secretary of state for passport services, said this month the department is adding staff across the United States as pandemic restrictions are relaxed. However, she said Americans who need to apply for or renew a passport should do so at least six months in advance of planning to travel.
Individuals with no immediate travel plans are encouraged to renew their passports by mail.
Meanwhile, the State Department and Department of Homeland Security have taken steps to alleviate problems related to Americans abroad with expired passports trying to return home.
The departments announced in May that U.S. citizens who are overseas and whose passport expired on or after January 1, 2020 will be able to use their documents to re-enter the United States until December 31, 2021. This provision does not apply to travel between other countries unless there is a transit station.
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