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Passport offices start to reopen amid backlog of 1.5 million applications

U.S. passports
U.S. passport offices and centers are starting to reopen under a three-phase plan.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times )

You’re still waiting for your new or renewed passport, right? Hold on a bit longer. The U.S. State Department has slowly reopened 16 passport agencies and centers to handle the current backlog of 1.5 million passport applications.

As the COVID-19 pandemic grinds on, the agency issued 236,000 passports last week, an increase from 154,000 the week of June 11 and 187,000 the week of June 18, according to the agency’s website.

Passport sites are in the midst of a CDC-recommended three-step reopening plan recommended by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency on March 20 stopped issuing passports except in life-or-death emergencies and suspended expedited services. The Los Angeles office remains closed.

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How do you know where you are in the application process if you submitted your paperwork by March 19? Check the application status page. “Not found” means your application is still in transit to a passport agency. “In process” means it has been received and will be reviewed "... as our staff return to work in phases,” the website said. No word on how long that will be.

The State Department’s website said the current backlog “is only a slight increase compared to what we have awaiting issuance in normal circumstances during June.”

Here’s how reopening will work:

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Phase 1 (12 sites): Passport sites will continue to prioritize emergency services. Applicants should review the required documents for life-or-death situations and then make an appointment. A cloth face covering is required in common areas and social distancing must be observed.

Phase 2 (four sites): Staff returns to resume processing applications “on a first in, first out basis, beginning with the oldest applications received.”

Phase 3 Normal operations, including expedited services, will resume.

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The agency advises Americans to wait until offices fully reopen before submitting new applications because they may face a delay in the return of important documents such as old passports and birth and naturalizations certificates.

Also, bear in mind, the State Department continues to advise U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel because of the pandemic. European nations and other countries have temporarily banned Americans from entering because of the high number of cases of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.


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