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Delays at U.S. Passport Agencies Continue
Wednesday, November 17, 2021

U.S. passport agencies maintained extremely limited operations as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were significant delays, application status could not even be checked online and people were encouraged to wait to apply until normal operations resumed absent life or death emergencies. In June 2020, the agency started resuming regular operations with a backlog of 1.7 million applications in place. The Department of State recommends that individuals apply four to six months in advance of travel, but the published timelines are not quite that long. Those timelines suggest that regular processing should take two to three months and expedited processing (which is available now) takes five to seven weeks from the time the application is submitted.

Submission can be another hurdle. In-person application spots are limited and individuals must apply in person (not by mail) if any of the following apply:

  • First passport application;

  • Applicant is under 16 years of age;

  • Last passport was issued when the applicant was under 16 years of age;

  • Prior passport was lost, stolen, or damaged; or

  • Prior passport was issued more than 15 years ago.

Individuals applying for U.S. passports may receive the new Next Generation Passport. The new passport is modernized and designed to be smarter and safer than older passports. It has new security features including polycarbonate data page, laser engraved personalization, and updated artwork featuring images of U.S. architecture, history, culture, landscapes, and traditions. Prior versions of U.S. passports and cards continue to be valid until they expire. The Passport Agency also notes that even those who apply now may still receive the older style passport while it gradually replaces its passport printers.

Although most U.S. citizens receive passports with “regular blue” covers, some U.S. passports have different covers. Among others, there are:

  • Diplomatic Black Passports for foreign service officers and others with diplomatic status;

  • Official Brown Passports for employees of the U.S. government when travelling abroad on business; and

  • Service Gray Passports issued to third-party contractors travelling in support of the U.S. government.

When you travel abroad on a U.S. passport, you may be required to present a passport with at least six months’ validity beyond your proposed travel dates.

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