Passport expiring? Officials advise early renewal due to backlog
By JAMES KIMBER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 3, 2016
TOKYO — Got a U.S. passport that’s expiring this year? Officials are advising to renew it sooner rather than later or risk a delay.
More than 17 million new passport and renewal applications are expected this year, an increase of 1.5 million from 2015, State Department officials said.
Many of the applications are for passports issued in 2006 and 2007 in response to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which requires Americans to carry passports to re-enter the U.S. after traveling to Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda by air, The New York Times reported. The initiative caused a backlog after millions scrambled to apply for first-time passports.
“We were overwhelmed then, and we are not going to be overwhelmed again,” Michele Bond, assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, told the Times.
The department has also seen an increase in first-time applications from those in states not yet in compliance with the REAL ID Act, an anti-terrorism law requiring stricter standards of state-issued identification cards, including driver’s licenses. Americans with non-compliant IDs must produce a second form of identification, such as a passport, to board commercial flights or access military installations.
The rush of applications could cause greater congestion for servicemembers needing to renew passports for overseas transfers and deployments. Many countries are now enforcing a requirement that U.S. passport holders have at least six months’ validity upon entry, bottlenecking the passport office even more, the Times report said.
Embassies overseas also could see longer wait times because passports are printed in the U.S., where the backlog is occurring.
“At this time the State Department is predicting as the number continues to rise this year that it may take longer for things to get printed, because the line for printing is getting longer,” said Anne Vasquez, deputy chief of American Citizen Services at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. “Normally, it takes us two to three weeks to process a passport. Right now, the State Department is saying it could take as long as six weeks.”
Vasquez said her office is also seeing a general uptick in passport applications due to Americans traveling more in general, which is also contributing to the backlog.
To avoid travel interruptions, the embassy recommends that people renew their passports at least seven months before the expiration date and to allow at least six weeks for a passport application or renewal to be completed, Vasquez said.
Stars and Stripes staffer Tyler Hlavac contributed to this report.