If you are a U.S. passport holder, you do not have dual citizenship, your U.S. passport expires in less than a year, and you’ve booked travel within the next six months, then there’s a good chance you won’t be going anywhere. Whatever our State Department’s priorities — illegal aliens storming our southern border, Chinese incursions in Europe, South America, and Africa, the mess President Joe Biden has made in Ukraine, or 800,000 refugees about to come streaming across the borders of Sudan — it doesn’t seem to give a damn about protecting American citizens’ right to travel.
I have a friend who applied for a new passport in December 2022. His old passport won’t expire until September 2023, but he had booked travel to Europe in May and thought that he’d get ahead of the game by renewing early. He applied online. The application process seemed straightforward enough, promising delivery in 4–6 weeks and easy access to checking its status via his online account. It was not cheap — $130 for renewal or $165 for first-time applicants.
In January 2023, he tried to enter the online application portal to check on its status only to find that the portal had been shut down. He tried off and on for weeks to dial various 1-800 numbers only to receive error messages. He finally tried a technical assistance hotline. After waiting for two hours, he got through to a tech assistant, who transferred him to an operator, who got him to an office. He was told that, due to staff shortages, the processing time for passports was now 10–13 weeks. The employee informed him that he could modify his application for an expedited request, which would be processed in 7–9 weeks for an extra $60 cost.
When my friend tried to go online to modify his application, his attempts wouldn’t take. Another tech assistant had to access his account for him, warning him that his now-expedited request might have to go back to the end of the line for processing like a new application. (RELATED: China’s Pressure on Taiwan: Nothing to See Here, Says Former Biden State Department Official)
My buddy was really stuck. When he originally requested his renewal, the State Department electronically canceled his old passport, and he was repeatedly warned not to try to travel on it. He began to worry that he might have to cancel his scheduled trip. The upcoming trip required a visa, which would cost as much as his new passport, but he couldn’t request the visa until he received a valid passport. Then there was the six-month rule, which requires that passports be valid for at least six months after the last date of international travel. He figured that if he didn’t receive his passport by mid-March, he was screwed. He was right.
As the weeks turned into months, he actually did cancel his trip, and he took a financial bath in the process. On April 1 — April Fools’ Day — he received notice from the State Department that his passport was completed and that he should expect a two-week delay before receiving it in the mail. He received it on April 15 — Tax Day.
As of this writing, the online application process is still down. Passport service centers will take walk-in customers. There are 4,500 passport processing centers, but you are required to schedule an appointment by phone — the call clicks to dial tone, plays elevator music for an hour, then clicks to dial tone again, and is answered after a two-hour wait (and it could still click to dial tone). In addition to call centers, there are a number of libraries, county and city courthouses, and auditors that can accept passport requests. The current published wait time to process a passport is 8–11 weeks from the day it is received at the processing center. If you are counting on the U.S. Postal Service, add “up to” four weeks: two weeks to be received and two weeks for delivery. That’s a total of four months!
U.S. citizens need a passport to travel internationally. True, five states — Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington — offer enhanced driver licenses that allow access to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and Caribbean countries, but only for travel by land or sea. Enhanced driver licenses contain embedded radio frequency identification chips containing personal information and are more difficult to counterfeit than conventional licenses. To get through airport security, you’ll still need a traditional passport.
U.S. passport cards cost about the same as most enhanced driver licenses — except for the state of Washington, which charges over $60 for first-time issues — and offer the same benefits. But it takes just as long — or longer — to receive a passport card as it does for a passport book: 10–13 weeks for routine applications or 7–9 weeks for expedited passports.
The good news is that, under the Biden administration, you can choose your gender and pronouns on both passport books and passport cards. The bad news is that self-identifying as such may not be the safest course of action if you are planning to travel to or through one of the 64 countries that still criminalize all forms of homosexuality.
Regardless of how you choose to identify, U.S. passports are only good for 10 years. The bottom line is that if you’ve had your passport for a while and haven’t traveled in the last three years due to COVID restrictions, then there is a good chance that either your passport expires soon or that most of the pages have already been stamped. And if those unfortunate caveats apply and the process for passport acquisition or renewal remains broken? You aren’t going anywhere soon.
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