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State Dept Plowing through USA Passport Backlog, Passport Update #5

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Passport imageI hope you have a valid passport for your study abroad and travel needs. I know mine needs renewal shortly. If you haven't begun the passport process, be ready for a significant wait.

How Long Is the Wait?

Passport applications aren't like picking the fastest checkout lane at the supermarket. Under normal circumstances, you can think of passport processing as a freeway with optional express lanes for a fee. If you needed a passport quickly, you could drop another $60 to get your passport processed in about half the time but, due to COVID-19 measures, expedited processing is no longer an option.

Routine—i.e. normal—processing, historically, has taken 6-8 weeks but, with the backlog of USA passport applications waiting for processing, the US Department of State has removed that guidance from their website; instead, they state, "Expect significant delays due to COVID-19."

Based on the data provided on their information page on the change in passport operations, I would estimate that your average wait for a passport application today is likely to be in the range of 12-15 weeks, meaning that an application submitted today could easily mean waiting until mid-October.

How Do We Come to This Estimate?

Week (Thurs–Weds) Applications Received Passports Awaiting Issuance Passports Issued Weeks to Clear Backlog Estimated Wait (Weeks)
June 11 – 17 120,000 1,510,000 154,000 11.17 17.17 – 19.17
June 18 – 24 134,000 1,610,000 187,000 8.61 14.61 – 16.61
June 25 – July 1 133,000 1,720,000 236,000 6.40 12.40 – 14.40
July 2 – July 8 112,000 1,430,000 188,000 7.61 13.61 – 15.61
July 9 – July 15 124,000 1,310,000 274,000 4.78 10.78 – 12.78

Based on the number of passport applications awaiting issuance (1,720,000 as of July 1) and the number of applications processed over the preceding week (236,000), it would take 6.4 weeks to clear the backlog. Add 6.4 weeks to the routine processing time of 6-8 weeks, and we are looking at a range of 12.4-14.4 weeks, putting us in the range of about Oct 1-15 for an application submitted Monday, July 6.

Other factors could impact this estimate:

  1. COVID-19-related suspensions of passport services due to new regional outbreaks.
  2. Fewer passport applications as travelers hesitate to make travel plans in this period of uncertainty.
  3. More passport applications as travelers believe international travel to be more accessible.

Bottom line: Expect significant delays, plan ahead, especially if you need to have travel documents in time for spring 2021 study abroad participation or winter break travel plans.

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