A couple renews their passports at the County Clerk’s Office. Like many, they’re concerned about getting them on time.
A couple stood outside the County Clerk’s office behind the counter’s plexiglass barrier, filling out forms to renew their passports. They were headed to Iceland in December, they explained to me, and now were getting nervous about the trip’s timing.
That’s because Iceland requires your passport to be valid at least three months prior to your receiving it. And that’s on the low side – many countries require an even greater length of time, such as six months, and even Iceland recommends it.
With travel opening up and those weary of staying stateside looking at getting out of the country again, or finally getting around to travel plans that had been put on hold, it might not be the best time to be backlogged.
But that’s exactly what is happening, says County Clerk Kim Trueblood. Their office has been getting passport applications of as many as 8-10 per day, Trueblood told City Pages, and the increase has a lot to do with local availability as well. Right now, the clerk’s office is the only place in the county to offer passports via walkup service. The library hasn’t yet restored its service and the post office requires an appointment, so the only place to walk in and apply is at the county clerk’s office from 8 am to 3 pm, Monday through Friday. No one has weekend service for passports right now. That could be a real challenge as school starts, making it difficult for families to stop in and get the passports (everyone applying for one has to appear in person, Trueblood says).
Adding to the backlog is the fact those processing passports closed up shop in the early months of COVID, and came back to a more than one million application backlog the agency still hasn’t caught up with yet.
And at one point, nearly 100,000 passport holders were stranded abroad because of border closures, resulting in their passports expiring. The State Department since reversed its decision and is allowing Americans to return from abroad on expired documents, according to a New York Times story.
The state department has started a limited number of passport fairs, but those are primarily for children and first-time passport applicants. Few are currently scheduled for anywhere near the Midwest, according to the State Department’s schedule on its website, except for one in Ohio.
As a result, standard passport applications could take up to 18 weeks, and even expedited passports, for which applicants pay a $60 fee (really $88 with the additional overnight postage for the application), now takes as long as 12 weeks. That’s a lot more than the six to eight weeks a standard passport application once took, and much more than the few days to a few weeks the expedited one could take.
Adding to applicants’ frustrations, actually getting any kind of tracking info can be tricky. Trueblood says the applications are tracked as they go to the dropbox site, but then get spread out to whichever passport office around the country has the capacity to handle them.
Trueblood is recommending people who want to get their passports renewed should do so as quickly as possible, since wait times can be difficult to predict. Those thinking about traveling overseas during spring break, for example, should be putting in their applications already, especially since many countries require six months of validity prior to entry.
“Everyone is itching to travel again,” Trueblood says, “and people are getting their passports, whether if they’ve never had one or are renewing them.”
Those with emergencies can still travel to the State Department offices in Chicago or Minneapolis. Proof of the emergency, such as a death in the family, is required for that type of expedited passport. But even those appointments can be tough to get, Trueblood warns.
Trueblood says they’ve already heard stories about people needing to cancel travel plans because they just couldn’t get their valid passport in time. That problem could be exacerbated come spring break time.