More Utahns are headed to the airport, eager to go on long-delayed vacations. And more young people are flying out on religious missions.
The easing of coronavirus restrictions has led to a spike in people renewing passports and applying for new ones. The problem is that the State Department is backed up and slowdowns at the U.S. Postal Service are making it even worse. Many travelers are running into delays that are threatening their trips.
For those who run into trouble, one way to get help is by reaching out to Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee. Utah’s two senators have created a combined team of caseworkers who can help constituents who run into snags with the federal government.
“The vast majority of calls we are receiving every single day are about passports,” said Jessica Christopher, the joint casework director.
She has five people working to speed the process for Utahns, many of whom have been caught unaware of the delays.
In past years, a person could get an expedited passport in two weeks. That’s not happening now, and the delays are even worse than it was back in the spring.
In April, the standard processing time was 12 weeks, and for those who paid the $60 expedited processing fee, they would get their passports in four to six weeks.
Now, the standard time is 18 weeks, and expedited passports take 12 weeks.
The State Department updated its recommendations Monday, suggesting Americans apply for a new passport or a renewal six months before their next trip. They say their call center is slammed and that getting an in-person appointment at a passport agency is difficult.
“Utahns just don’t know what to expect when they apply,” said Adam Gardiner, Romney’s state director. “We need to get the word out that this is a problem. You could be missing your vacation, a funeral, you name it.”
Senate caseworkers, like Christopher, can identify what office is processing a Utahn’s passport, call for an update and help get it completed. The Senate staffers will ask people to fill out a privacy release and provide their travel plans. Oftentimes, the office will encourage constituents to pay the fee to expedite the passport.
“If they give us two or three weeks, we have a pretty good record of turning them around,” Christopher said. “If they give us two or three days, it is pretty difficult.”
Gardiner said the joint casework team handled more passport requests in June than it had in the past two years combined.
The New York Times recently published stories of people using not just members of Congress but also Facebook groups to find in-person appointments at passport agencies, sometimes hundreds of miles away.
Ben Williams planned to go to the Dominican Republic with his girlfriend in April. To pull it off, the office manager from Atlanta had to fly to Chicago three days before his big vacation to get his passport renewed, according to The Times.
Utahns who need to go to a passport center in person have to travel. The nation has 27 such agencies and none is located in the Beehive State. The closest ones are in Aurora, Colo., and Los Angeles.
Romney has pushed Secretary of State Antony Blinken to create a new office in Utah, sending a letter in April that in part said, “Utah is rapidly expanding as a center for global commerce and tourism, is home to thousands of Latter-day Saints who annually embark on worldwide religious missions, and like much of the Western mountain region, has a rapidly growing population.”
If that happened, Utahns could get their passports done in one day. Until then, Christopher encourages people, even if they have no existing travel plans, to check their passports and file for a renewal if it would expire in the next year.
“Then,” she said, “you don’t have to stress when the time comes.”