The coronavirus pandemic has hit the travel agency extremely hard. There is so much uncertainty ranging from countries not allowing U.S. citizens entry to cruise ships docked with no passengers and nowhere to go. This uncertainty is also notable with the United States Passport Agency and obtaining a U.S. Passport. After nearly 2 1/2 months of silence, the United States Department of State finally announced in June that they will be opening up the various passport agencies in phases. Here are some frequent questions that travelers have been asking and what we know right now:
1.What are these phases that the agencies mention and what is their criteria?
There are three phases, with almost all agencies either beginning phase 1 or planning phase 1. Here are the phases below direct from the Department of State website:
Phase 1: Some of our employees will return to our agencies and centers, allowing us to resume limited processing of applications we already received. We will continue to prioritize services for customers with life-or-death emergencies by appointment only. No other expedite service will be available during phase one.
Phase 2: We will be able to resume processing more of the applications we already received. Applications will be processed on a first in, first out basis, beginning with the oldest applications received. We will continue prioritizing life-or-death emergency cases but no other expedited service will be available during phase two.
Phase 3: All remaining staff return to our agencies and centers, and we plan to resume normal operations. We will offer a processing time commitment for routine service and resume expedited service in this phase. Expedite service is available at this time.
When an agency enters a phase is totally dependent on the containment of the virus in that location. For example, some agencies such as Connecticut and New York are already in phase 2 while other agencies like Houston and Miami are not even in a phase yet due to the high number of corona virus cases.
2. What phase are the agencies in now?
At the moment the passport agencies are in different phases but none are in phase 3 as of yet. The passport agencies in New York, Connecticut and Washington DC are in phase 2 which is the closest phase to reopening. However no set date is being given as to when they will begin phase 3 and reopen to the public.
3. I have a life or death emergency. What can I do?
If you have a life or death emergency you can call the Department of State and set up an appointment. Please note, you are going to have to prove that this is the case or you will be sent home. This is something they are taking very serious. If you have the proof you can call them at 877-487-2778 to set up an appointment. You do have to go the designated agency in person as no third party service can assist.
4. Can I start the processing of my passport now?
Yes, you can start the processing of your passport right now but expedited processing is, unfortunately, not available yet. If it is not a life or death emergency, the only way to apply for a passport, at this time, is to do regular processing which can only be done through the mail for renewals or through an authorized post office or county clerk. Please note that there are lengthy delays regarding regular processing. There is an expected delay of 2 to 3 months minimum. There is no exact timeframe. Renewals can be mailed in while first time/children’s passport can be done by going to a county clerk or post office that does passports. Note: not all county clerks and post offices do it so you need to check with one will work for you. Here is a link: iafdb.travel.state.gov
5. Can I mail in my passport to get processed?
Here is the official stance from the Department of State: You can apply now for regular process, but unless you have a life-or-death emergency, you will experience delays before receiving your passport and the return of your citizenship documents such as previous passports, and birth and naturalization certificates. We will not offer normal processing times until phase three of our reopening plan.
6. What if I don’t have a passport and have a trip that I must absolutely make without exception?
Not to be evasive but you must discuss this matter with Department of State. You can call them at the number listed at 877-487-2778 and discuss the matter with them. Third party services are not allowed to process until Phase 3. There are no exceptions. There is a distinct possibility that you would have to change your trip.
7. How long until the Department of State can process expedited passports?
This is the million dollar question. And unfortunately it does not have an answer at this time. The Department of State has not indicated nor given specific dates when they will reopen. All they are saying is that the reopening is totally dependent on the handling of the pandemic.
8. What can PVM do for me at this time?
PVM is an expedited service. We are not a regular process service and have never been a service for regular processing. We do have to wait for them to reach Phase 3 before we can help clients. If you would like you can send us an email and we will be happy to notify you once the Department of State has reopened and we are able to do passports again. Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org
9. I want to travel but I need to get my visa before my trip. Can you assist with getting visas at this time?
Many consulates, while open, are either not accepting applications or only accepting urgent family visa type requests with proof of such an urgency. Some consulates are closed until the pandemic eases. Most consulates will not reopen for visas until it is safe to travel.
10. I mailed in my application at a post office/county clerk but still have not gotten it back. Can you assist me or guide me in what to do?
If you began your application dealing with the Department of State directly through a post office or county clerk you must remain dealing with the Department of State directly. No third party service can help you when you apply in this manner. For information on your application please call 877-487-2778 for information on your application.
Unfortunately there is a lot of uncertainty with regards to expediting a U.S. passport at this time. We do hope that we have been able to answer some of your questions even though they may be answers you weren’t hoping to hear. We do believe that will be changing soon. If it does we will be advising you. Thank you and stay safe everyone!!!