Need a Passport? Hope You’re Not in a Hurry…
Just over a century ago, a US citizen could journey to almost any other country in the world without a passport. And until only 15 years ago, you could travel to Mexico, Canada, and most Caribbean countries without one.
World War I marked the beginning of the end of passport-free international travel, beginning in 1914. The aftermath of the 9/11 attacks ended it for good, with the exception of passport-free zones like the Schengen region of Europe.
But if your US passport is coming up for renewal anytime soon, you’re out of luck if you were planning to travel overseas. The State Department’s Passport Agency suspended most operations on March 20 and is only now reopening gradually. Except in the case of a “life or death emergency,” if you need a US passport, you won’t be getting it anytime soon.
Life-or-death emergencies, in case you were wondering, are “serious illnesses, injuries, or deaths in your immediate family (parent, child, spouse, sibling, and grandparent) that require you to travel outside the United States within 72 hours.”
The Passport Agency says it’s working to clear a backlog of more than 1.7 million applications. That’s only slightly more than it handles in an average month. But because it’s only at Phase 1 of its reopening plan, count on waiting several months for your application or renewal application to be processed. The agency’s goal is to process 200,000 applications per week. But it will take at least two months to deal with the backlog of 1.7 million applications. Only then will it be able to process new applications.
Under normal circumstances, the Passport Agency offers three tracks to passport renewal. A life-or-death-emergency renewal takes up to 72 hours. Expedited service takes three to four weeks. Regular applications take six to eight weeks to be approved. You can check online to see the status of your renewal application.
But these are hardly ordinary circumstances. Expedited service is no longer available, and some individuals who applied to renew their passport in March and April are being told their passports won’t be ready until September.
The situation is even worse for the approximately nine million Americans living or working abroad. Passport services in US embassies and consulates have been largely suspended except in life-or-death emergencies. One overseas client of ours needed to get her passport renewed to maintain the validity of her residency visa. She couldn’t make an appointment at the US embassy because her situation wasn’t a life-or-death emergency.
Now that her passport is expired, she doesn’t know if she’ll be allowed to stay in her adopted country since she’s now violating the terms of her visa. If she’s not allowed to remain there, she’ll have to leave her husband, the home they share, and the business they’ve built together.
Unlike many private businesses, the State Department doesn’t allow Passport Agency employees to work from home. That’s understandable due to the precautions that need to be taken when handling sensitive documents and printing passport books and cards. Still, it hardly seems unreasonable for the Passport Agency to scan applications and supporting documentation for review by an employee working from home over a secure internet connection. But the State Department says having Passport Agency employees working from home raises insurmountable security and privacy concerns.
The Passport Agency is advising citizens who need to renew their passports to wait to send in their applications until the backlog has cleared up. I don’t buy into that reasoning. Once international travel bans are lifted, you can count on a deluge of travelers applying to get their passports renewed. It only makes sense to get your application in the pile to be processed, even if you need to wait several months to get it approved.
Or, you could do what many of our clients have done – apply for a second passport. That way, you won’t be stuck at home the next time your US passport comes up for renewal (or if Uncle Sam revokes or declines to renew it).
Protecting your assets (and yourself) against any threat - from the government, the IRS or a frivolous lawsuit - is something The Nestmann Group has helped more than 15,000 Americans do over the last 30 years.
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