US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday the State Department is facing an “unprecedented demand” for passports, and has increased staffing and resources to deal with it.
Blinken said the current wait time for a regular passport is “about ten to thirteen weeks, and for an expedited passport about seven to nine weeks.”
The State Department is “getting 500,000 applications a week for passports,” which is 30 to 40% more applicants this year than last year, Blinken told a House Appropriations subcommittee budget hearing.
“Historically, the demand’s been cyclical, the busy season is kind of March to late summer. Basically it’s full time now,” he said.
“We’ve hired staff to increase the adjudicative capacity to make sure that … we’ve got the customer service, phone lines manned, we have more people in the pipeline and that’s also reflected in the budget. It’s hugely important,” he said.
The top US diplomat said he has “a task force established at headquarters to marshal all of these efforts so that we’re really digging in on this.”
“We were authorizing overtime, we’ve opened satellite offices, we’re organizing cores at the headquarters to assist in processing, processing times,” Blinken said.
He noted that the department had launched a pilot online renewal platform so Americans who already have a passport can renew online, but it has “now halted it to make sure that we can fine tune it and improve it before we roll it out in a bigger way.”
“We expect that 65% of renewal customers for passports will be able to do so online once this program is fully up and running,” Blinken said.
“I think it’s really important that we be as clear and transparent as possible with people who are looking for passports to know what they can expect,” he said.
On visas, Blinken said delays have begun to improve. The priority is the categories “for students, for temporary workers, for business travelers, maritime crews,” he said, noting, “we’ve tried to make sure that they are served and we are at pre-pandemic levels or better in those categories.”
“For visitor visas, the median global interview appointment wait time is two months, half of what it was a year ago,” he said, but added that the wait times are lower “in most places.”
“The immigrant visas are a whole other issue. We’re doing a lot of work on that,” he said.