3 Phases of Passport Processing Operations Announced in the United States
If you need to apply for a passport, you are still out of luck until further notice even though new applications for passports are being accepted by the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the Department of State of the United States, according to an update pertaining to passport services which was issued on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 — with emergency situations as the only exception to this policy — as you will experience delays before receiving your passport; and a processing time commitment will not be offered until phase three of the reopening plan.
3 Phases of Passport Processing Operations Announced in the United States
The Bureau of Consular Affairs of the Department of State of the United States is working to resume normal operations in three separate phases — with no specific details as to when they will be implemented — and each passport agency and passport center will open on a different date based on local conditions.
Phase 1: Limited staff return to work, allowing the resumption of limited processing of applications which have already been received. Applications will be processed on a first in, first out basis. Services for customers with life-or-death emergencies will continue to be prioritized. Customers must wear cloth face coverings in all common areas — including in the lobbies of passport agencies and passport centers — and observe strict distancing from each other. Customers are still advised to wait to submit new or renewal applications during phase one, as delays will continue.
Phase 2: Most staff will return to work, and will process applications on a first in, first out basis — beginning with the oldest applications. Staff and customers should wear cloth face coverings in all common areas — including in the lobbies of passport agencies and passport centers — and continue to observe strict distancing from each other.
Phase 3: All remaining Passport Services staff return to work. Applications will continue to be addressed on a first in, first out basis — focusing on the oldest applications. Staff and customers may wear cloth face coverings in common areas; and distancing from each other will be encouraged. Expedited processing of passports will resume during phase three.
Although employees working on processing passports from home may seem like an obvious solution to alleviating the backlog of passport applications, that is not possible, as passport applications must be adjudicated in the official facilities of the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the Department of State of the United States to protect the personally identifiable information of customers; and ensure the integrity of the application process. The highest standards of security and privacy protection for customers are maintained, and sensitive documents like birth certificates and naturalization certificates must be secured in the offices of passport agencies and passport centers. Passport books and cards must be physically printed and mailed back to customers from the official facilities, passport agencies, and passport centers. Additional employees are being prepared to return to the official facilities, passport agencies, and passport centers in phases; and will immediately work to finalize pending applications.
If you need to apply for a passport in person — especially for all children under age 16 and first-time applicants — you can apply at acceptance facilities which include post offices, clerk of courts, and libraries. Please contact your local acceptance facility to confirm if it is open or closed. If you want to apply at a post office, you will need to book an appointment directly on the official Internet web site of the United States Postal Service.
The update is to an advisory pertaining to passport services, which was originally issued by the aforementioned agency on Thursday, March 19, 2020 in response to the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic in which routine passport services were to have taken longer than six to eight weeks to process; and expedited passport services were suspended effective as of Friday, March 20, 2020 with no timeline at this time as to when expedited passport services will return.
The policy did not include renewals for passports, which are still being accepted by postal mail — but you are warned that the processing of the renewal of your passport will encounter significant delays; and to not go to an acceptance facility to get your passport renewed.
The following text is repeated verbatim from the official advisory — although another version of this updated advisory is here as well.
Safely Getting Back To Work For You
To prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect our workforce and customers, we significantly reduced passport operations in March 2020. We temporarily suspended expedited passport processing and restricted service to cases involving life-or-death emergencies.
As global conditions continue to evolve, and as states and health authorities adapt their operational recommendations, the Department looks forward to resuming routine passport processing, while protecting the safety of both our staff and our customers. We are planning to gradually reopen in three phases this summer as part of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomacy Strong plan, which follows guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for safely reopening. Each passport agency and center will open on a different date based on local conditions.
We continue to experience significant delays in passport processing, as our staff are unable to process applications from home due to strict standards for security and privacy protection for customers. This includes applications by customers who already applied for routine service at passport acceptance facilities or who mailed in renewal applications since March. We ask for your patience as we gradually resume normal operations and address COVID-19 related processing delays.
We are committed to working as hard as we can to process applications as quickly as possible, as soon as it is safe for us to do so.
Current Status of Passport Operations
Currently, passport agencies and passport centers are only open to assist customers who need a passport in the next 72 hours for a life-or-death emergency. For the health and safety of employees and customers, the amount of time employees and customers spend together is being minimized in official facilities, passport agencies, and passport centers. Passports are only being issued for emergency situations.
What Qualifies as a Life-or-Death Emergency?
Life-or-death emergencies are serious illnesses, injuries, or deaths in your immediate family — for example, parent, child, spouse, sibling, aunt, uncle, etcetera — which require you to travel outside the United States within 72 hours or 3 days. You must provide:
- A passport application with supporting documents
- Proof of the life-or-death emergency — such as a death certificate, a statement from a mortuary, or a signed letter from a hospital or medical professional; and documents must be translated to English or already in English
- Proof of international travel — for example, reservation, ticket, itinerary — specific to the emergency
To make an appointment at a passport agency or passport center for a life-or-death emergency, you must call the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778 — 1-888-874-7793 TDD/TTY — on Monday through Friday, 8:00 in the morning to 5:00 in the afternoon Eastern Time, except federal holidays or on Saturdays, 10:00 in the morning to 3:00 in the afternoon Eastern Time. Call 202-647-4000 outside of these hours to arrange for an appointment.
Plans to Offer More Services
The Bureau of Consular Affairs of the Department of State of the United States intends to resume routine passport processing in phases, while simultaneously protecting the safety of both employees and customers. Local conditions are being closely monitored in each city in which a passport agency and passport center is located. Local conditions — which will affect when offices will reopen — include medical infrastructure, 2019 Novel Coronavirus cases, emergency response capabilities, and restrictions on leaving home.
How Long Before You Receive Your Passport? Status Updates?
The Bureau of Consular Affairs of the Department of State of the United States continues to face significant delays in processing passports. As additional employees return to the official facilities, passport agencies, and passport centers, the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the Department of State of the United States will work aggressively to address a high volume of pending applications from customers who applied before and after passport operations were limited in March. See the current wait times to receive your passport here. Your patience is requested as employees safely get back to work on your passport application — starting with phase one of the aforementioned reopening plan.
Most applications submitted prior to Thursday, March 19, 2020 are still pending processing. Rest assured, your documents are being stored in secure facilities.
Due to the unprecedented impacts of the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic, a specific update on when you will receive your passport and supporting documents cannot be provided at this time. The capacity to provide status updates will be regained during phase three of the plan to return to normal.
If you call the National Passport Information Center or check the Online Passport Status System after you apply or renew, your application status may be “Not Found” or “In Process.” If you applied or renewed after Thursday, March 19, 2020, your application status may be “Not Found.” This status cannot be updated until employees return to work at the official facilities, passport agencies, and passport centers across the country.
If you applied or renewed before Thursday, March 19, 2020, your application status may be “In Process” — which means the application is with the Department of State, which will continue reviewing it when employees return to work at the official facilities, passport agencies, and passport centers across the country.
While applications continue to be accepted, your payments continue to be processed, and your forms and supporting documents continue to be safeguarded, the “Not Found” and “In Process” status messages will not be able to be updated until additional employees return to work at the official facilities, passport agencies, and passport centers across the country.
One of the first steps in the process is handling passport fees. Although fees can be processed remotely, secure documents — such as birth certificates — cannot be handled at home. Your applications and documents with personally identifiable information are secure. These applications cannot be processed further until when employees return to work at the official facilities, passport agencies, and passport centers across the country.
Expedited passport service was suspended in March; and you cannot upgrade your application to expedite service at this time. Expedited service will not be offered until phase three of the reopening plan is in effect.
Renewal by Postal Mail
You can still apply for a passport by postal mail — but unless you have a life-or-death emergency, you will experience delays. A processing time commitment will not be offered until the commencement of phase three of the reopening plan.
You do not need to renew your passport before it expires unless you are planning to travel internationally. Customers eligible to renew their passport have up to five years to renew their document after it expires. After five years from the expiration date, you must apply in person. Most countries require that your United States passport has at least six months of validity beyond the dates of your trip.
REAL ID Will NOT Be Enforced at Airports Later This Year
Due to the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security extended the deadline for REAL ID by one year until Friday, October 1, 2021. Beginning in October 2021, the Department of Homeland Security will require customers to use a REAL ID to fly domestically. The most common REAL ID is a state-issued driver’s license. A United States passport book and passport card are two of many alternative documents that customers can use to fly domestically if they do not have a state-issued REAL ID. For more information on REAL ID, go to this official web site of the the Department of Homeland Security.
How the Customer Experience Will Be Different in the Coming Months
Because the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the Department of State of the United States is reopening in three phases and will not have full staffing during the summer, upgrades to expedited service will not be offered immediately; and the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the Department of State of the United States will not be able to immediately commit to specific processing times for routine service.
Customers who are 16 years or older are encouraged to apply for passport services by postal mail where there is no need to be physically present at a passport office. Services by mail include passport renewals for customers who meet certain criteria, name and data changes, and applying for a passport card or passport book if the customer is already in possession of one or the other document.
The health and safety of customers and employees will remain the highest priority during the three phases of reopening. Customers will notice measures to ensure distancing from others in waiting rooms — with fewer chairs and appointments — at the official facilities, passport agencies, and passport centers across the country. Hours of operation may be different. Some of the acceptance facility partners may also stop offering walk-in services and may require appointments to ensure distancing from others.
Customers Overseas Who Need a Passport
Embassies and consulates of the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the Department of State of the United States are currently providing emergency passport services to customers overseas. For emergency passport services for citizens of the United States who are abroad, please contact the United States embassy or consulate closest to your current location. Customers should expect delays when applying for non-emergency passport or citizenship services. The Bureau of Consular Affairs of the Department of State of the United States hopes to return to normal passport processing, as soon as doing so is safe.
A Level 4 advisory to restrict travel — which is the highest level that warns Do Not Travel — was initially issued on Thursday, March 19, 2020 by the Department of State of the United States, which introduced an improved travel advisory system of sharing information on Wednesday, January 10, 2018 for travelers who are citizens of the United States. This system is designed to provide clear, timely, and reliable safety and security information worldwide. The Level 4 advisory to restrict travel is still in effect, which advises that citizens of the United States avoid all international travel because of the impact of the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic. If you are considering international travel at this time, you should read the advisory and familiarize yourself with the risks.
Even if you were to travel, numerous countries had either strengthened restrictions for entry to foreigners and visitors — or the borders are simply closed off altogether — which has led to airlines substantially diminishing their route networks by reducing or eliminating flight schedules. The good news is that some countries have announced the opening of their borders to visitors again — either with restricted access or full access — but no guarantees are given that changes in those announcements will not occur.
Either way, I hope your passport does not expire anytime soon — and if it did, I wonder if the same restrictions will be in place pertaining to obtaining a new passport if a period of time elapses since an old passport expired once the system returns to some semblance of normalcy sometime in the future.
All photographs ©2015 and ©2016 by Brian Cohen.