Routine applications for U.S. passports are taking up to 18 weeks from submission to delivery, the State Department warned in a July 21 update. The 18-week timeframe includes up to 12 weeks for processing and up to six weeks combined for mailing at the beginning and end of the process.
An expedited application service for an additional $60 is available, but even this can take as long as 12 weeks. In addition, passports can be issued in person within 72 hours for life-or-death emergencies and “some agencies and centers are also offering extremely limited appointments for customers who have extremely urgent international travel in the next 72 hours for reasons other than a life-or-death emergency,” according to the update.
Urgent travel processing appointments must be booked by phone as the online booking facility has been disabled temporarily to improve screening of applicants. The State Department said third parties using bots had swamped the online service, making it difficult to determine whether appointments were legitimate or fraudulent. No criteria about what constitutes a legitimate urgent travel application were shared.
Third parties will be unable to book an urgent travel appointment under the new process.
The State Department said it is working to reduce passport processing times “while protecting the health and safety of our staff and customers.” It also blamed “mailing delays” as another reason for the lengthy waits. The department urged applicants to apply for new or renewed passports “at least six months” ahead of travel if possible.
The number of U.S. passports issued in the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2020, plummeted to 11.7 million from 20.7 million the prior 12 months. Calendar year 2020 was the first year since records began in 1989 that that the number of U.S. passport holders fell, down from 146.8 million to 143.1 million. In 1989 there were only 7.3 million passport holders.