The U.S. State Department Is Gradually Resuming Passport Services (Video)
"We are aggressively increasing our processing capability and doing everything we can to return to normal as soon as possible."
Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Carl Risch announced on a media call on Friday that half of their employees at passport agencies and centers across the country have returned to work in a gradual process that started on June 3.
"As many states are reopening, it is safe and prudent for us to follow suit," he said. "Issuing passports is a critical component of the Department's mission and our personnel has therefore been deemed 'mission-critical.' As of yesterday, 11 passport agencies and centers around the country have entered Phase 1 of our resumption plan [in compliance with] state and local positions and CDC guidelines."
Employees will be provided with personal protective equipment (PPE), and social distancing rules will be enforced.
There are currently over 1.7 million pending passport applications — a number that would typically be processed in one month — that Risch said would take about two months to get through in a first-in, first-out approach. The U.S. usually processes 18 million passports every year. Now, he hopes the Department will process 200,000 per week as a starting point.
He also projected that anyone who applies from today on will have to wait a minimum of eight weeks to receive their passport. However, for life or death emergencies, applications will still be expedited, according to Risch.
He acknowledged that while many businesses were able to pivot to working remotely, processing passports could not be done off-site to protect the privacy of applicants, as "secure documents," such as birth certificates or naturalization certificates, are required.
As travel advisories discouraged Americans from leaving the country, Risch explained that passports were still being processed for life or death emergencies, American citizens who were stuck overseas due to travel restrictions, and for members of the armed forces whose missions required overseas travel.
"We know that many other Americans have been waiting patiently for their own passports," he said. "The health and safety of our workforce and our customers will always remain a top priority, and as a result, we will able to balance to our commitment to facilitate Americans traveling abroad while being able to safeguard our employees and customers."