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What’s new with U.S Passport offices in the COVID- 19 era

  • By: Immigration Attorney Osas Iyamu
  • Published: November 26, 2020
What’s new with passport operations in the COVID- 19 era

The novel pandemic Covid-19 brought a boat-load of changes to travel plans in the U.S, passport operations not excluded. The U.S State Department minimized its passport operations over the past few months. This was done to protect its workforce and avoid the spread of the coronavirus.

This translated to a reduction in staffing and restriction of in-person services. It also led to a temporary deferment of expedited passport processing. The suspension of expedited passport affects customers renewing by mail or at an acceptance facility.

These reforms are all in a bid to protect customers and staff. It will also make the application process as convenient as possible in the wake of the pandemic. 


So what’s new with U.S Passport Processing?

In light of current global conditions and Covid-19 developments, the United States Department of State is commencing passport operations resumption in phases. 

So what's new?


  • In phase 1 of these new procedures, limited staff return to work at agencies and centers to process already received applications. Passport Application processing is on a first-in, first-out basis. Priority will be given to passport applications needed within 72 hours because of emergency life-death situations. The passport operations office has adopted the U.S Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS ) safety guidelines, customers must wear a protective face covering and observe social distancing.
  • Phase 2 involves adding more staff to agencies and centers. This Phase will also operate with phase 1 protocols. Passport Services will still be by appointment only.
  • In Phase 3, all remaining staff return to agencies and centers and transition to regular processing schedules. The State Department will likely lift the life-or-death requirement for emergency appointments.
    The State Department will also resume 24-48 hours processing for critical requests.
  • According to the Department of State website, of the 26 regional passport agencies in the U.S, a total of 13 passport agencies are now in Phase 1 of the re-opening plan. Nine passport agencies are in phase two of the re-opening plan, and three passport agencies (Vermont, Buffalo, and New Orlean Passport center) are now in Phase 3. The El Paso passport agency is in Phase Zero of the re-opening plan. Click Here to stay updated on the re-opening phase and operations of Passport agencies and centers near you.

What’s new with Expedited Passport Processing time?

  • Processing of U.S Passports typically takes 6-8 weeks. Expedited passport processing generally takes three weeks. However, a delay in processing should be expected during the initial introduction of Phase 3.
  • The State Department stopped offering expedited processing of passports on March 19th, 2020. Resumption of expedited processing will commence in phase three of the reopening plan. Customers who paid the $60 expedited service fee and did not receive expedited service can request a refund of this fee.


Why aren’t agency staff processing passport applications from home?

Why aren't agency staff processing passport applications from home?

As per the Passport Agency, Printing and mailing visa books to clients must be done from passport agencies and centers. This to protect customers’ personal information and sustain the credibility of the application process.



Can  I send passport applications via Mail? 

The Department of State encourages passport applicants to send their applications via mail when possible. This is because it is a safe and contactless alternative. Applicants can send applications to renew or replace a passport without being physically present at a passport center.

They can change a name or correct an error in a passport via mail. Applicants can also apply for a passport card or report a lost or stolen passport via mail.

Learn if you are eligible to apply by mail. Get started.

What should expect when applying at a passport acceptance facility?

To apply in person, visit a passport acceptance facility. All first-time applicants and Children under the age of 16 must apply in person. Applicants who misplaced or had their passport stolen must also apply in-person. The acceptance facilities include lWhat is to be expected when applying at a Passport acceptance facility?ocal government offices, clerks of court, libraries, and post offices.

Before applying, Applicants should contact their local passport acceptance facility to confirm if it is open. Some locations may require appointments to enable social distancing. Applicants must make an appointment on the website if they intend to apply to a post office.

When applying at a passport acceptance facility, applicants will choose between routine service or expedited service. Expedited service costs an additional $60 per application.

What is the waiting period for passport application?

The standard processing time for a U.S. passport is 6-8 weeks. However, with passport facilities still working less than full capacity, the current routine Passport processing time is 10-12 weeks. Expedited processing time is now 4-6 weeks and is currently restricted to emergency life or death situations. United States Embassies and consulates are presently making emergency passport services a priority.

What qualifies as an emergency life or death situation?

An emergency life-or-death situation refers to severe illnesses, injuries, or deaths of an immediate family member. It requires travel outside the United States within 72 hours (3 business days). To qualify for this emergency service,  proof of the emergency (medical report, death certificate, or a morgue statement)  must be provided. The passport application should be accompanied by evidence of the emergency and Travel plans.

The future of passport operations

The coming months appear promising as global economies are gradually adjusting to the new COVID-19 era. With the gradual reopening of passport offices in Phases, full operations will hopefully soon be restored at various passport office locations.

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