Nikema Williams questions State Dept. on passport processing delays

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Georgia Congresswoman Nikema Williams is pushing for answers on why it’s taking months for the U.S. State Department to process passport applications for international travel.

Williams, an Atlanta Democrat, authored a letter to the State Department co-signed by 194 other members of Congress from both parties, saying the delays “cause added stress for our constituents around long-planned travel.”

The May 16 letter says some travelers have to pay extra for expedited processing, which costs an additional $60, or overnight shipping fees. Congressional offices are dedicating time and resources to address requests for help from constituents.

The legislators ask in the letter how the State Dept. will clear the backlog of passport applications.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified in a Congressional hearing earlier this year that the State Dept. is getting 500,000 applications a week for a passport, up 30-40% from last year.

“We’ve had an unprecedented demand for renewed travel,” Blinken said during the hearing in March. Regular processing times for a passport are about 10-13 weeks and 7-9 weeks for expedited processing, according to the most recent information from the State Department.

After three years with much of international travel on hold amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some people now ready to go abroad are finding that their passports are expired. That’s on top of the regular churn of new passport applications and renewals.

“I’ve been really alarmed by the extended wait times for U.S passport renewals and visa applications,” said U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, D-New York, during the March hearing. “Every single day in my office... we are receiving frantic calls and outreach from a lot of our constituents” with international travel plans.

Amid the delays, the State Department conducted a beta-test rollout of an Online Passport Renewal System, to ease the process for those renewing passports. But the letter authored by Williams says “questions remain” about how the system has been implemented.

Blinken said during the hearing that the system was halted to fine tune it and improve it, before a broader rollout.

The State Department said it is committed to providing the best possible service for passport customers, according to a spokesperson, and encouraged all Americans to check their passports and renew them now if they plan to travel internationally this year. Some countries that travelers may visit require that a passport be valid at least six months beyond the dates of their trip.