In the early days of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Department of State declared they would only issue passports for “life or death” circumstances. Since then, the backlog of passports waiting to be processed is over 1.6 million and even asking your Congressman to intervene won’t help.
Meanwhile, although international travel isn’t anywhere near where it had been, it’s starting. Some countries are opening up, flights to other countries are happening (here’s a look at Delta’s international flights in June) and select cruise lines are scheduling cruises for later this summer. Yet we’re getting closer and closer to 2 million passports that still need to be processed.
To hopefully push the government into getting back to processing passports so people can travel, one of the “big guns” just stepped in.
The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) represents 2,600 domestic travel agencies and travel supplier companies, as well as more than 750 international member companies. Their members arranged over 155 million trips in 2015 alone, including $13 billion in tours, $11 billion in cruises, $86 billion in flights, $33 billion in hotels and $5 billion in car rentals.
If anyone knows how much people being able to travel affects the economy, it’s travel agents. So in late May, ASTA issued an appeal to the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs calling for the swift resumption of the U.S. passport processing system.
Here are parts of the letter that Zane Kerby, ASTA President and CEO, wrote Assistant Secretary of State, Carl Risch:
Over the past few weeks we have been contacted by a number of members whose clients’ plans to travel internationally in late 2020 and 2021 are at risk of being negatively impacted by their inability to apply for or renew their passports. Many of these clients applied for passport renewals before the pandemic reached full force and have been unable to secure any information from the Department about the status of their applications.
…we are hopeful that international travel will resume in the near future, though certainly in a limited fashion and so long as the appropriate public health officials deem it safe. As it does so, the need for a resumption of normal or close-to-normal passport processing will grow in importance.
A return to normalcy for the travel and tourism industries is sure to be accomplished in a slow, deliberate fashion, and will be largely dependent upon shifts in government policy both domestically and abroad.
Resuming passport processing operations may be a small part of this process, but it is a critical and central one. We urge you to make the restoring of passport processing operations a priority as you work toward the safe resumption of international travel.
My take on it
ASTA represents thousands upon thousands of travel agents, travel agencies, travel suppliers and tour operators. They realize that for people to put money into the economy of travel, they have to have the tools to travel – that includes passports.
Taking care of a backlog of 1.6 million passports, with another 9,000 added to the pile every day, is a process that won’t be completed overnight. It will take time – months upon months – to get through all of them. The longer they wait, the longer the delays will be. The last thing our economy needs is for people to cancel trips because they don’t have the government documents they need.
Besides, if the government wants everything (safely) open so we can boost the economy, then why can’t passports start to get processed, as well?
#stayhealthy #staysafe #washyourhands
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary
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I’d think the US government could have just extended the expiration date for 1 more year so when they reopen they can focus on only first-time passport holders.
Good idea – but how would other countries recognize this extended expiration? It might create more problems for travelers.
The printers probably have excess capacity. They could issue new physical passports with an extended expiration date. That way other countries wouldn’t have to worry about recognizing an extension.
Some of the big travel partners could also relax requirements a bit. The EU currently requires passports to be valid for 6 months beyond the end of your 90-day tourist visa, so even if you only wanted to spend June 5-10th there you’d need a passport valid through March 2nd, 2021. They could probably go back to the 3 months beyond your visa requirement from before the Syrian refugee crisis.