Passport 'purgatory' draws outrage from bipartisan lawmakers as backlog swells

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Lawmakers across the political aisle have called on the Biden administration to address a backlog of passport applications that's threatened to upend millions of Americans' summer travel plans.

There are an estimated 2.17 million passport applications pending adjudication, a State Department official told FOX Business, a delay that's largely due to the department's limited in-person workforce – the result of the COVID-19 pandemic – as well as an influx of applications amid widespread vaccinations.  

The crush of applications has overwhelmed the agency's 26 processing facilities, with wait times as long as 18 weeks, or 12 weeks for those who pay extra for expedited processing. The agency has recommended that Americans looking to travel abroad apply for a passport at least six months in advance.


The lengthy delays have also sparked a backlash on Capitol Hill with Americans unable to travel, prompting both Republicans and Democrats to urge the State Department to expedite applications and cut down the typical waiting time. 

In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the top members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee urged the agency to "prioritize efforts to reduce processing time for passport applications."

"As more and more employees are able to safely return to work, and with demand for passports surging, it is critical that the Department use all available tools to reduce extended processing times, including strategies developed to address past passport backlogs," wrote Reps. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., and Michael McCaul, R-Texas. 

The agency is working to return more than 150 employees to work in 21 of its domestic offices in order to more quickly process the applications, said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services Rachel Arndt.

"That is somewhat higher than what we would normally expect to see," Arndt told reporters last week during a press briefing. "However, that was really because as the travelers were ramping up with the vaccination availability, the workload started coming in faster than we would normally see." 


In the past, congressional offices could help constituents close to their departure who were experiencing passport issues. Lawmakers would then work with the State Department to accelerate the process. This year, however, the State Department said it would only help with "life and death" situations.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said in a letter to Blinken that his office typically received about five calls per month to request passport assistance; now, his office receives about five per day – an "unprecedented rate." 

"I hope that by calling your attention to this backlog and delay, you will help get the passport staff the resources they need to clear the backlog and reduce the wait times," he wrote, urging the department to reopen service center locations so that individuals can request in-person appointments. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has pressed the State Department to bring on emergency personnel in order to speed up the passport process.


"My office has been deluged with people who’ve been planning their vacation, who have reservations, who have tickets — and have waited weeks and even months to get passports and visas," Schumer said, adding: "These folks and tens of thousands of others, and maybe 100,000, handed in their paperwork, and now they’re in what we call passport purgatory."

Fox News' Rich Edson contributed to this report 

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