The U.S. State Department declared on Dec 18th that processing times for passport applications have reverted to pre-pandemic norms.
Routine passport applications are presently being handled within a span of six to eight weeks, while expedited service, incurring an additional fee of $60, ensures processing in two to three weeks, according to the department’s announcement.
In a released statement, the department expressed satisfaction with achieving a return to the processing benchmarks observed in March 2020. The statement attributed this accomplishment to the dedicated efforts of personnel working for the American people.
Earlier in the year, the processing of passport applications faced disruptions due to lingering pandemic-related challenges and a surge in overseas travel, affecting the plans of thousands. As recently as July, routine processing times stretched to between 10 and 13 weeks, with expedited processing taking seven to nine weeks. During some weeks in the summer, the department received nearly 400,000 applications.
The department spokesperson noted a 12% increase in staffing levels since December 2022, with additional hires in the pipeline. To meet the demand, existing staff also contributed tens of thousands of overtime hours, with 30,000 to 40,000 overtime hours authorized each month from January 2023 through October 2023. Volunteers from various department units, including retirees and new hires, were enlisted to work on surge teams, assisting in passport adjudication before transitioning to other assignments.
Statistics reveal a significant increase in the possession of U.S. passports among Americans, with approximately 48% currently holding valid passports, compared to a mere 5% in 1990. The total number of valid U.S. passports in circulation now exceeds 160 million, nearly double the figure from 2007.
While Transportation Security Administration screenings at U.S. airports continue to register record highs on some days, indications suggest a slowdown in the post-pandemic trend of “revenge travel” as travelers trim their budgets amid a decelerating economy.