Students face long wait times for passports

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Passport distribution centers are still facing difficulties with processing passports because of staffing shortages following the COVID-19 pandemic. Students should apply for passports at least three months before international travel plans, according to Utah County Clerk Office officials. (Payton Pingree)

BYU students making plans to travel internationally this year should start preparing as soon as possible, as passport wait times are setting record lengths. 

According to the U.S. Department of State, the wait times are “on track to set the record for the highest demand year ever, far surpassing volumes seen during previous surges in demand in 2007 and 2017.”

This surge in demand was unprecedented, according to the U.S. Department of State. 

“During some weeks this winter, the Department received more than 500,000 applications, the highest number ever for this time of year, exceeding our official projections,” the department said. 

Utah County Clerk Aaron Davidson explained that the County Clerk Office located in downtown Provo is working as efficiently as it can to distribute passports to the public. 

“During the pandemic, the number of passports that were issued went down and so they laid off a lot of staff and closed some offices,” Davidson said of the State Department. “Now that it’s over, they just haven’t ramped up as well as they had hoped to.” 

Davidson added that during a State Department inspection on May 25, officials told him the department is three million passports behind schedule. Davidson said they are processing these passports as quickly as the staff can do it. 

Carolina Bless, passport supervisor at the Utah County Clerk Office, said although the first four months of the year are the busiest in the office, individuals should get their passports as early as possible. 

“If you’re planning on going on a trip, you need to plan ahead at least three months,” Bless said. 

Bless explained that individuals can pay extra to get their passport expedited, which takes between 7-9 weeks. Passports are $130 regularly, and expediting adds an extra $60. Bless advised to plan ahead to avoid the expensive fee. 

To make the process go smoothly, Bless recommended individuals visit the U.S. Department of State’s website. This website has all the information listed on what one needs to apply for a passport. 

“It’s best to be informed before you come in,” Bless said. “We try to accommodate. If someone forgets something, we tell them to come back and help them the same day.”

Davidson also advised individuals to go to the passport department to get their pictures taken in person. 

“They’re going to make sure that you get the right perspective and lighting and get the picture done correctly,” Davidson said. “If your picture fails, it could be three months before you find out your picture is bad.”

BYU exercise science major Hannah Hutchinson had to get her passport renewed shortly after she got married and was also in the process of legally changing her last name.

“When I applied … they told me 9-10 weeks but said most of the time it comes early,” Hutchinson said. “From the time I first applied to the time I finally received it in the mail was 13 weeks.”

While the delay did not directly inconvenience her travels, the process presented difficulties because the passport office had her marriage license, meaning she could not change her last name until her passport was ready. 

Hutchinson suggested students considering international travel anytime soon should get their passports now. 

“Do not delay and do not wait because you never know how long it is going to take,” Hutchinson said.

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