While travel around the world has surged to pre-pandemic record levels, the surge in us passport applications has hit the wall of government bureaucracy. Lack of staff to assess applications has caused backlogs and delays, while thousands of people's holiday plans are being canceled or postponed because their passport applications have not been finalized.
With large payments for airfare and hotels for vacations abroad, the anxious wait for passports or renewals has led to complaints to the US Congress, while US officials, who do not deny the problem, are unable to predict when it will ease. They blame pandemic-related staff shortages and this year's pause in online processing for the very long wait times, which has caused the passport agency to record a record 500,000 applications a week. US State Department officials say the trend is on track to surpass the 22 million passports issued last year.
Some Americans told Tourism FM that they still have not received their passports even though they applied for them 4 months before their summer vacation trips, while the 8 to 11 week waiting period that the authorities said was 8 to 11 weeks was first increased to 13 weeks and then even longer. Failure to receive passports in time for travel costs thousands of dollars in lost revenue, and wait times in the passport system's automated response system can reach 90 minutes.
On March 23, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a House of Representatives subcommittee that the system collapsed with the coronavirus, saying that the government laid off staff and reassigned passport processing staff when demand for travel almost completely disappeared during the pandemic. Blinken also noted that during the same period, the government also stopped the online passport renewal system for regulation and development, and that the ministry hired agents as quickly as possible, opened more appointments, and tried to address the crisis in other ways.
According to Jay Zagorsky, an economist at Boston University's Questrom School of Business, the number of Americans holding valid US passports has grown about 10 percent faster than population growth over the past 30 years. Passports are processed at centers around the country and printed at secure facilities in the capital, Washington, and Mississippi, according to the Government Printing Office.