Travel demand leads to passport processing backlog

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — For Austin parent Scott Brown, the processing of renewing his daughter’s passport seemed simple enough: Fill out some paperwork, gather her documents and book an in-person appointment.

Then came the logistics that come with underage passports. Both parents had to be present for the appointment, which posed its own challenges with his daughter’s school days and his and his wife’s work schedules.

When he went to book an appointment online, there wasn’t a single location in Austin that had an appointment available in the next four weeks — and there was no way to look ahead, with appointment slots only displayed on a four-week interval.

“I started trying to make an appointment for my family, and every single one of them said the same thing. ‘It’s appointment only, no walk in, and then no appointments available,’” Brown recounted.

Erik Leighton, owner of Just Passports in Austin, said this demand is being felt across the board. He receives calls from people around the country seeking a passport renewal, as local post offices and processing facilities are backlogged.

“You cannot get an appointment at a post office right now across the United States of America,” he said. “Because I help people all over the United States, and you just can’t get one.”

Before September, he said his business fielded 20 calls a day inquiring about passport renewals. Now? That daily average has risen to 200.

Compounding this pent-up demand for travel, Leighton said staffing shortages at central passport processing agencies, like the one in Houston, has led them to put a cap on how many passport applications local businesses like Just Passports can accept each day.

“Pre-pandemic, we could do several passports a day. That was not a big deal,” he said. “I guess there’s no employees [at main facilities] to be able to help. So if we were to bring all these passports… including all the passports that come into their facility, they would not be able to get passports out for anybody. So they started limiting that to one passport per day.”

Just Passports specializes in expedited passport services for clients, focused on customers departing for their trips within 14 days.

With the one-passport limit capping their operations, he said he’s currently booked out through early June.

“I can’t even take any more work on with the passports. It’s crazy,” he said. “And I have six, seven employees, so it’s tough. That’s for sure.”

For adults looking to renew their passport, those can be renewed via mail if all the following conditions are met:

  • You have your current, unexpired passport available to submit with your application
  • It’s not damaged other than normal wear and tear
  • It was issued to you when you were age 16 or older
  • It was issued within the past 15 years
  • It was issued in your current name or you can document your name change

As for minors’ passport renewals, Leighton said the process is essentially the same as applying for a passport for the first time, right down to mandatory, in-person appointments. This is due to the child’s minor status and need for parents or guardians to be present during the application process.

For adult travelers, they can renew their passports by mail. The process typically takes between eight and 11 weeks to process, while expedited processing — for an additional $60 — has an average turnaround between five to seven weeks.

For families looking to travel internationally, Leighton recommends parents begin the renewal process after four years, before minors hit the five-year expiration date. Many countries and some airlines require travelers have a six-month validity — or timespan before their passport expires — to travel overseas.

For minor applications that include a notarized signature from a parent, he said government applications have to be filled out in black ink.

“If that form is in blue ink, it will get rejected and it delays the whole process,” he said.

Locally, the Travis County District Clerk’s office has processed more than 3,800 applications this year, with a typical, routine service turnaround between eight and 11 weeks. The office currently has six agents and is by appointment only, processing between 60 and 80 passport applications daily.

“On our appointment website, we only schedule appointments 1 month out at a time. Every Monday morning, I will add in an additional 160 appointments through our online appointment scheduled for an additional week,” Travis County District Clerk Velva L. Price said in an email. “As soon as those 160 appointments are added into our system, those will typically be gone within 2-3 hours!”

Price said the office will maintain its appointment system to help keep employees in the office safe and will consider adjusting the system, depending on staffing levels.