16/06/2024

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Book overseas travel after getting your passport, says senator, amid ‘unprecedented demand’

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Book overseas travel after getting your passport, says senator, amid ‘unprecedented demand’

Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford is encouraging Americans to delay booking international travel until after receiving their passports as State Department personnel gear up for what is expected to be the busiest summer travel season on record.

“During the time of COVID, it backed up to about 1.7 million passports in the backlog. We come out of COVID and they never caught up from there. We’re now at 3 million in the backlog,” Lankford said an interview with “GMA3” this week.

Lankford previously called on the State Department to address the issue in letters sent to then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in 2020 and another to Secretary of State Antony Blinken in 2021.

On March 24, the department updated its passport processing times to 10-13 weeks for routine applications and 7-9 weeks for expedited processing for an additional $60. Those times begin when they receive the application and do not include time spent in the mail.

But Lankford said some of his constituents are experiencing even longer wait times – up to “five months or longer” for routine applications and three to four months for expedited applications.

“A lot of people are planning to travel now coming out of the pandemic, but they’re not getting a passport in a timely method,” Lankford said.

Book overseas travel after getting your passport, says senator, amid ‘unprecedented demand’

The State Department is facing “unprecedented demand” for passports because many Americans are eager to resume overseas travel, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a House Appropriations hearing in March.

Recently up to 500,000 applications have been filed per week, the highest number ever for this time of year, according to the department’s website. Officials expect demand to increase through the spring and remain high throughout the summer.

Lankston said the launch of an online passport renewal system last August created confusion among constituents seeking information about where their renewal application was in the process – a concern echoed by Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia.

“The OPR system seems to be fraught with significant errors that have caused Virginians headaches, stress, and unfortunately in some instances, delayed or missed travel,” Warner wrote in a March letter to Blinken.

The State Department said it paused the “limited release” of the program on March 8 to make improvements based on customer feedback.

“During our limited release, over 500,000 customers volunteered to submit their applications and online and test our system. We look forward to launching the enhanced application in a full, nationwide release later this year,” the department’s website said.

Last month, several more lawmakers sent letters to Blinken asking for answers about the backlog, including Sen. Eric Schmitt of Missouri and a joint letter from all six members of the Utah Congressional Delegation.

In the first three months of Schmitt’s tenure, nearly half of his office’s casework have been related to passports and other Department of State issues, the senator wrote, including constituents reporting unanswered phone calls and voicemails and inability to make in-person appointments.

The State Department’s website notes that some customers have reported experiencing extended wait times when calling the National Passport Information Center, which officials are “taking steps to improve.” Blinken has said he’s addressing the backlog by authorizing overtime for workers, hiring more staff and opening up satellite offices.

“The Department of State is committed to providing the best possible service for our passport customers. We encourage all Americans to check their passports and renew now if they are planning international travel this year,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement to ABC News.

“While we are processing the vast majority of applications within our published processing times, we are aware that some applications have gone beyond published times. Individuals who have upcoming international travel and whose applications have been pending with us beyond the processed times should call the National Passport Information Center (NPIC) at 1-877-487-2778,” the statement said.

It may take up to two weeks for applications to arrive by mail at a passport agency or center and up to two weeks for customers to receive a completed passport in the mail after it has been printed, the statement said. It also noted that applications will also take longer to process if the agency needs to request additional information, so applicants are encouraged to review requirements for applying for or renewing passports to avoid delays.

“We remain committed to serving as many Americans as possible, as quickly as possible, while upholding our responsibility to protect U.S. borders through the vigilant adjudication of U.S. passport applications,” the statement said.

ABC News’ Shannon Crawford contributed to this report.

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