U.S. Warns of Long Delays For Passports

By Matthew Lee
Associated Press
Friday, March 16, 2007

Overwhelmed by unprecedented demand, the State Department is warning would-be travelers to brace for lengthy delays in getting U.S. passports, even when they pay a hefty fee to speed their applications.

The department has hired hundreds of employees to process passport requests over the past two years as tougher immigration rules have taken effect. Even so, the department says a crush of new applicants -- more than 1 million a month -- has inundated its staff and caused delays of up to 1 1/2 months amid the peak January-to-April season when many people are preparing to travel over the spring and summer.

In addition, a regulation that took effect this year requiring Americans to have passports when traveling by air anywhere outside the country, including Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, "has increased passport demand and production to record levels," the department said in a statement this week.

Applications received between October and March have risen 44 percent over the same period in 2005-2006, the department said in a notice sent to lawmakers yesterday. Some members of Congress have received complaints from constituents about delays.

According to the notice, routine passport processing could take 10 weeks instead of the previous six, and expedited processing could take four weeks instead of two weeks.

About 12 million passport applications were processed in 2006 and as many as 17 million are expected this year, the department said.

For adults getting their first passport, the routine processing fee is $97, with an additional $60 charge for expedited service. Passport renewals for adults cost $67, with the same fee for expediting.

The department said that by the end of 2008 it plans to have hired 400 passport adjudicators since 2004.

The agency's 16 production facilities are also working overtime, including 24 hours a day in three shifts at the National Passport Center in New Hampshire. A new center capable of making as many as 10 million passports a year is to open in Arkansas in April, it said.

About 74 million Americans have valid U.S. passports.

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