State Department resumes passport services after backlog

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The State Department will resume passport services for American citizens after a three-month pause in applications spurred by coronavirus-related closures and travel advisories.

Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Carl Risch told reporters Friday that the agency now has the tools in place to send staff back to offices in phases. The agency has previously said that the sensitive nature of the passport application process makes it infeasible to process them remotely. 

The State Department faces a massive backlog in applications after it paused the application process for 1.7 million Americans when it stopped taking new applications March 19 for all but urgent cases.

As of Thursday, 11 passport offices have opened but the rest remain closed based off local mandates. Risch said close to half of the passport workforce has now returned to facilities and began processing applications, and an additional 150 workers from other parts of the State Department were being pulled in to assist them. 

“We believe we’re in a much better position now going forward to weather such storms should they come back,” Risch said.

He said passport applications would be considered on a “first in, first out” basis that would prioritize people who have been waiting since February. Risch said new applicants will have to wait at least eight weeks to get a document, since that’s about how long it will take to catch up on old applications. 

“We are aggressively increasing our processing capability, and doing everything we can do return to normal as quickly as possible,” he said.

The department faced calls to continue processing applications from seven Republican senators who said the delay in the application process could further damage the economy.  

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