US Passport Processing Accelerates: Top 7 FAQs

Passport emergency support is available at US embassies and consulates
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‘To prevent the spread of COVID-19 disease, we significantly reduced passport operations in March 2020. And we temporarily suspended expedited passport processing and restricted service to cases involving life-or-death emergencies’ said the U.S. Department of State.

‘As global conditions evolve and U.S. states begin to reopen, we are resuming operations in phases. We ask for your patience as we safely work on your application,’ commented the State Department on August 6, 2020.

The good news for international travelers is that a total of 12 passport agencies and centers are in phase one and 6 agencies and centers in phase two of the State Department’s 3-phase reopening plan.

As an example of this renewed capability to meet consumer demand, during the week ending August 5, 2020, there were 213,000 passports issued.

The State Department also published a list of Frequently Asked Questions to clarify some of these positive changes, such as the following:

1. What is the current status of passport operations?

For the health and safety of employees and customers, we are minimizing the amount of time employees and customers spend together in our agencies and centers. Customers must make an appointment for life-or-death emergency service and cannot walk into our agencies or centers.

2. What qualifies as a life-or-death emergency?

Life-or-death emergencies are serious illnesses, injuries, or deaths in your immediate family (parent, legal guardian, child, spouse, sibling, and grandparent) that require you to travel outside the United States within 72 hours (3 business days).

To make an appointment at a passport agency or center for a life-or-death emergency, you must call our National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778 (1-888-874-7793 TDD/TTY) on Monday- Friday, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. Call 202-647-4000 outside of these hours to make an appointment.

3. I already submitted an application. How long will it take for me to receive my passport and my citizenship evidence documents?

You may check the status of your passport online or by calling the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778. Unfortunately, we are not able to return documents before your passport is completed. We ask for your patience as we safely work on your application.

You can get a status update 7-10 business days after you have applied for your passport. Status updates are available online or by calling us at 1-877-487-2778.

4. Can I expedite my passport?

No. We suspended expedited service in March 2020. You cannot upgrade your application to expedite service at this time. We plan to resume offering expedited processing times (meaning 2-3 weeks door-to-door service) after we first resume offering routine processing times in phase three.

5. What about customers overseas who need a passport?

Our embassies and consulates are currently providing emergency passport services and in some cases routine passport services, to U.S. citizens overseas. For passport services abroad, please contact the U.S. embassy or consulate closest to you.

6. Is it safe to travel internationally?

Conditions vary depending upon location. We continue to recommend U.S. citizens exercise caution when traveling abroad due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic. Check our country-specific information pages to make an informed decision about your travel.

7. Will REAL ID still be enforced at airports later this year?

No. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) extended the deadline for REAL ID by one year until October 1, 2021. 

Beginning in October 2021, the DHS will require customers to use a REAL ID to fly domestically.  The most common REAL ID is a state-issued driver's license. 

However, a U.S. passport book and passport card are two of many alternative documents that customers can use to fly domestically if they do not have a state-issued REAL ID. For more information on REAL ID, go to DHS’ website.

In conclusion, the US State Department says ‘We hope to return to normal passport processing, as soon as it is safe for us to do so.’

Vax-Before-Travel publishes US passport news.