COVID Ensnares Nearly Two Million Americans in US Passport Backlog

The U.S. State Department says the backlog of Americans seeking a passport is now between 1.5 and 2 million. Further, the wait times for passports has swelled to up to 18 weeks, according to Newsweek.

Originally appeared at: NEWSMAX

The backlog has gotten the attention of Congress. At a press conference earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said, ''My office has been deluged with people who have been planning their vacation, who have reservations, who have tickets, and have waited weeks and even months to get passports and visas. So today, we are calling on the State Department to put some more emergency personnel in those two areas.''

Rachel Arndt, the State Department's deputy assistant secretary for passport services, said in a briefing, ''We are surging staff, both adjudicators and contractors, back into the office at agencies across the country as COVID restrictions ease. But it will take time for our wait times to fall from the current 12 to 18 weeks to pre-pandemic levels.''

She added that more than 150 employees would be returning to more than 21 passport agencies across the country.

As the passport offices re-open and staffing increases, a new issue has developed. According to AARP, the backlog of passport applicants and delayed processing times have led to an increase in scammers.

State Department officials were forced to disable the agency’s online appointment booking system July 21. Apparently, third parties booked appointments online using automated programs, or bots, and then put the slots up for sale.

Outsiders booked all available appointments within minutes of the appointments being posted, department officials told passport applicants. This situation prevented many applicants from making appointments and made it difficult to determine if appointments were legitimate.

The State Department adds that the website stoppage does not affect passport-acceptance facilities that include post offices, libraries and other local government offices. Several have online appointment scheduling not affected by the change.

Arndt said current wait times for both new and renewals can still be up to 18 weeks. Applicants can pay an additional $60 to expedite the process, which can reduce the time to up to 12 weeks.

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