HOUSTON, Texas — Residents applying for a passport are experiencing unprecedented wait times caused by ongoing staffing shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Harris and Galveston County, and government officials.
Andres Rodriguez, a representative of passport services for the U.S. Department of State, said there are fewer employees, adding to delays.
“We had ramped down operations for COVID-19, so in some locations, we did have less employees coming into the office,” he said. “Then with an increased amount of workload, it added to the existing workload we already had.”
Local counties are experiencing similar challenges. Harris County District Clerk Marilyn Burgess said while processing times have improved in recent months, elongated wait times still persist.
“Passports are definitely delayed by the state department. It was up to 18 weeks to get a passport processed; they just lowered it (in late September),” Burgess said. “So we’re moving in the right direction, but it’s definitely related to COVID-19 and so many people working remotely.”
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As of December, it was taking eight to 11 weeks for normal passport applications to process. Before the pandemic, the wait was typically six to eight weeks, according to Rodriguez. At the Galveston County District Clerk’s Office, there has been an influx of passport applications since spring 2021 with the office not having to close this past summer.
“We had a downturn when we had the coronavirus. We’re getting back to almost normal levels now,” Galveston County District Clerk John Kinard said.
One of the reasons for the delay is the overwhelming number of new people who are deciding to travel now that less strict COVID-19 restrictions are in place, according to Burgess.
“A lot of people were not traveling at all during the early stages of the pandemic, and so now that things have started opening up, people are getting ready to travel,” Burgess said. “So it’s a bigger influx of new applications because we went so long without any.”
For those unable to wait eight to 11 weeks for a passport, they still have the option of getting their passport expedited for an additional fee of $60-which would instead take about five to seven weeks to process-or there is the option of trying to get an emergency appointment, according to Rodriguez.
In Texas, there are currently three agencies that will take emergency appointments, located in Houston, El Paso and Dallas. For international travel, you must be traveling within 72 hours to receive an appointment and have printed proof of the international travel such as a flight itinerary or hotel reservation, according to the U.S. Department of State.
Burgess advised people who are planning on traveling to start planning for it in advance. Anyone wishing to apply for a passport should check with their local offices to determine what services they are offering.
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