The Looming Passport Renewal Rush
If you plan on traveling out of the country for a meeting sometime in the next two years, check the expiration date on your passport and alert your attendees to do the same. The U.S. State Department is expecting a huge backlog in applications through 2018, and is advising travelers to renew their passports well ahead of time. Besides that, there are a number of changes afoot with passports themselves you might need to know about.
The main reason for the looming backlog are the 49 million passports that are set to expire in the next several years. This all stems from an unprecedented surge in applications dating back to 2007 and the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) recommended by the 9/11 Commission. That mandate required Americans traveling to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean to use a passport. Prior to that, all you needed was a typical driver’s license to come and go from those countries.
Now, 10 years later, many of those passport holders will be sending in renewal applications, which routinely take about four to six weeks to process during normal times. Another change to factor in comes from destinations, who recently began requiring passports to be valid for a number of months after a traveler’s departure, prompting passport holders to send in renewal forms farther ahead of the expiration date.
Some domestic air travelers could also be requesting passports. The REAL ID Act is a federal law passed in 2005 that required states to issue driver’s license and ID cards that included machine-readable data for security purposes. While most states have updated their ID cards, some states (Washington, Minnesota, Missouri) are still not in compliance, while others have received extensions. This means that starting in 2018, residents holding IDs from those non-compliant states could show up at the airport and be turned away at the gate. A passport would solve that issue, but could encourage some domestic flyers to start sending in their renewal applications.
Similar to state IDs, passports have also received a technology upgrade, with an embedded data chip that includes the holder’s personal information and a digital photo. The idea is to prevent fraud and strengthen security. New passports are now slimmer, from 52-pages down to 28, though you can always request more pages if you’re a frequent international traveler.
To renew or apply for a passport, fill out an online application at the U.S. State Department’s passport page. You can also go to your local post office. Or if your trip is within two weeks, you’ll need to visit a regional U.S. passport agency, or use an expedited passport courier service. And when you sit for your photo, make sure to remove your glasses to comply with a new rule that just went into effect. More than 200,000 photos were deemed unacceptable by the passport agency in 2015, which led to a lot of avoidable and unnecessary delays.
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