Passport Application Processing Backlog Decreases Again — Slowly: September 24, 2020 Update

Since Phase One of the three separate phases of resuming the normal operations of processing passport applications started on Thursday, June 11, 2020 — along with the staggered reopening of 25 passport agencies and passport centers as part of the first phase, with eleven of them in the second phase as of today, Thursday, September 24, 2020 — at least 2,905,000 passports have been issued, according to the latest update from the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the Department of State of the United States.

Passport Application Processing Backlog Decreases Again — Slowly: September 24, 2020 Update

The number of passports currently awaiting issuance is still steadily decreasing compared to what the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the Department of State of the United States has awaiting issuance in normal circumstances.

Week — Thursday Through Wednesday Applications Received Passports Awaiting Issuance Passports Issued
September 17, 2020 through September 23, 2020 179,000 934,000 165,000
September 10, 2020 through September 16, 2020 143,000 931,000 149,000
September 3, 2020 through September 9, 2020 110,000 944,000 129,000
August 27, 2020 through September 2, 2020 151,000 919,000 168,000
August 20, 2020 through August 26, 2020 165,000 938,000 156,000
August 13, 2020 through August 19, 2020 143,000 923,000 209,000
August 6, 2020 through August 12, 2020 151,000 968,000 235,000
July 30, 2020 through August 5, 2020 139,000 1.06 million 213,000
July 23, 2020 through July 29, 2020 143,000 1.15 million 206,000
July 16, 2020 through July 22, 2020 143,000 1.23 million 198,000
July 9, 2020 through July 15, 2020 124,000 1.31 million 274,000
July 2, 2020 through July 8, 2020 112,000 1.43 million 188,000
June 25, 2020 through July 1, 2020 133,000 1.59 million 236,000
June 18, 2020 through June 24, 2020 134,000 1.61 million 187,000
June 11, 2020 through June 17, 2020 120,000 1.72 million 154,000
June 4, 2020 through June 10, 2020 92,000 1.76 million 38,000

The table shown above reflects each week — from Thursdays through Wednesdays — since Phase One of the three separate phases of resuming the normal operations of processing passport applications started on Thursday, June 11, 2020; and the backlog of 934,000 passports awaiting issuance is slowly diminishing, as at least 2,905,000 passports have been issued as of Wednesday, September 23, 2020.

Assuming that 165,000 passports are issued each week against the total of 934,000 passports which are awaiting issuance, this means that the backlog of applications could be caught up in as few as 5.5 weeks — or as soon as Monday, November 2, 2020. That estimate excludes the number of new passport applications received each week and assumes that the resumption of the normal operations of processing passport applications remains at the current pace and is not further upgraded to Phase Two or Phase Three, which would be expected to increase the acceleration of the processing of passport applications. The chance of the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic causing another delay in processing passport applications is also a real possibility.

Also, according to the latest update from the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the Department of State of the United States, if you have applied for your new passport as late as July of 2020 and have not received it yet, you are likely next:

As of September 24, we have completed processing applications received in March, April, May, and June. We are making progress on applications received in July. Due to nationwide variations in staffing and the type of applications, some of our passport agencies and centers are already working on applications received in August and September. If you applied before July and have not received your passport yet, we may have sent you a letter requesting additional information to continue processing your application. Please respond to this letter.

As the United States passport statistics in the table will be updated every Thursday so that you can track the weekly progress of the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the Department of State of the United States as staff at its agencies and centers safely work on applications, the next update is expected to be available on Thursday, October 1, 2020.

The 25 passport agencies and passport centers which have reopened as part of the first phase — with ten of them now part of the second of three phases — of resuming the normal operations of processing passport applications include:

3 Phases of Passport Processing Operations

Passport

Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

As first reported in this article at The Gate, the three phases of resuming the normal operations of processing passport applications at official facilities, passport agencies, and passport centers include:

  • 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:
    • Additional staff will return to work
    • Applications will be processed on a first in, first out basis — beginning with the oldest applications
    • Only customers with life-or-death emergencies can book appointments for having their passport applications processed
    • 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 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, with limited appointments for customers traveling within two weeks

Other Information

Currently, passport agencies and passport centers are only open to assist customers who need a passport within the next 72 hours and must have an appointment for a life-or-death emergency which requires international travel. 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. Customers with appointments 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.

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; but you should expect significant delays in receiving your passport and important documents. 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. Customers are still advised to wait to submit new or renewal applications during phase one, as significant delays will continue.

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
Passport

Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

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.

The following two passport agencies and centers continue to be closed to the public until further notice:

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.

Summary

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, the system of processing passport applications is slowly returning to some semblance of normalcy; and that will hopefully happen as soon as Monday, November 2, 2020, or 5.5 weeks from when this article was written…

…but with 25 of 27 passport agencies reopened — eleven of which are operating in the second of three phases — I am not sure as to why this process is not happening at a significantly faster pace…

…or at least as fast as when it first started…

All photographs ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

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