Our Chicago: U.S. passport backlog, travel options within territories

ByABC 7 Chicago Digital Team via WLS logo
Sunday, August 1, 2021
Our Chicago
WLS

CHICAGO (WLS) -- After a year of staying home, millions of Americans are eager to travel.

While some people hope to leave the country, the U.S. State Department reports a backlog in passport applications. Between 1.5 and 2 million applications are pending.

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The current wait time for a new passport or a passport renewal is 12 to 18 weeks.

"One is that we're facing COVID related challenges still at every stage of our process," said Dan Alessandrini, Director of Program Management, Passport Services with the U.S. State Department. "The second is that there's pent-up demand from customers that delayed applying during the height of the pandemic in 2020 that shifted into this year, and the third is the summer is always our seasonal peak."

Alessandrini said they recommend that people renew their passports by mail right now as a safe, contactless option right now. He said they are accepting appointments at their agencies and centers for "life and death emergencies and extremely limited appointments for non-life and death travel."

"The only way to book those right now is through our call center. The appointments are very limited. They're first come, first served, and at the moment, demand is slightly greater than supply although we're adding more appointments as more and more of our staff return to work," Alessandrini said.

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For travelers who cannot get a passport right away or do not want the hassle, travel expert Ja'Vonne Harley and owner of Advantage International suggests some tropical destinations where passports are not required.

"Puerto Rico, you do not need a passport to go to Puerto Rico because it is a territory. Of course, there's the United States Virgin Islands you don't have to have a passport to go to, and if you're doing a closed loop cruise, meaning you're departing from and returning to the United States, you can do a cruise to the Caribbean, where it is highly recommended that you have a passport, but you can cruise on a closed loop cruise without one with legal documentation," Harley said.