• Passport applications are '30 to 40% above' numbers from last year, said the Secretary of State
  • The State Department has expanded its workforce to handle the applications
  • Blinken noted that a record number of 22 million passports were issued in fiscal year 2022

The State Department is facing an "unprecedented demand" for passports as the travel industry makes a rebound with the easing of Covid-era restrictions, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

The surge in passport applications has also led to the State Department adding more staffers to its workforce, Blinken said Thursday while speaking at a House Appropriations subcommittee budget hearing.

"We're getting 500,000 applications a week for a passport. That's 30 to 40% above last year, so it's dramatic," Blinken said as he answered a question on extended wait times for U.S. passport renewals and visa applications, according to CBS News.

It normally "takes about 10 to 13 weeks" to process a passport whereas an expedited request would take "seven to nine weeks," he added.

The travel industry took a major hit and the number of passport applications significantly declined at the height of the pandemic. The "bottom basically dropped out of the system" and "demand went way down," Blinken said.

As Covid-19 restrictions were lifted, the number of passport applications bounced back.

The US Travel Association, a nonprofit organization that seeks to promote travel to the United States and within the country, found that travel spending is on a steady upward trend. The travel spending in January this year was 4% above the levels in 2019. About 52% of Americans are also planning to travel for leisure over the next six months, the nonprofit said.

Blinken also noted that the fiscal year 2022 saw a record-hitting number of 22 million passports being issued. Going by the trend so far, the State Department is "on track to break" that record in 2023, he added.

"Historically, the demand's been cyclical," he said, "the busy season is kind of March to late summer. Basically it's full-time now," he said, CNN reported.

The State Department has also expanded its workforce to deal with the influx of passport applications. "I have a task force established at headquarters to marshall all of these efforts so that we're really digging in on this," Blinken said, adding, "We're authorizing overtime, we've opened satellite offices."

"I think it's really important that we be as clear and transparent as possible with people who are looking for passports to know what they can expect," he further said.

Blinken said an online passport renewal pilot was launched by the State Department to speed up the renewal process. However, it was halted "to make sure that we can fine-tune it and improve it before we roll it out in a bigger way."

"We expect that 65% of renewal customers for passports will be able to do so online once this program is fully up and running," Blinken added.

While addressing the delay in visas, Blinken said the wait time has reduced and that visa applications "for students, for temporary workers, for business travelers, maritime crews" are being prioritized.

"We've tried to make sure that they are served and we are at pre-pandemic levels or better in those categories," he continued.

"For visitor visas, the median global interview appointment wait time is two months, half of what it was a year ago," he said but noted that, "in most places," applicants see a lower wait time.

"The immigrant visas are a whole other issue," he added. "We're doing a lot of work on that."

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