Speaking Tuesday at Rhode Island T. F. Green International Airport, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) outlined new efforts to assist Rhode Islanders with passport applications and renewals, and what to do if they experience delays. (Courtesy of Office of U.S. Sen. Jack Reed)
WARWICK — The fun of travel should be about adventure, not paperwork. But long wait times are what many Rhode Islanders have to deal with if they want to travel abroad this year.
That in turn is overwhelming Congressional staffers, who have been inundated with calls, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said at a press briefing at T.F. Green International Airport Tuesday morning.
“We’re doing our best to fix the delays,” Reed said.
In March, the State Department extended the processing times to 10 to 13 weeks for routine service and seven to nine weeks for expedited submissions. The pre-pandemic processing time was between four and six weeks.
The State Department says the delay is due to a surge in passport requests following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, along with staffing issues caused by the pandemic.
“It’s very important to have a passport,” Reed said. “With it, you can travel. Without it, it interrupts your plans and probably interrupts your whole family lifestyle.”
This backlog has resulted in approximately 350 calls from constituents to Reed’s office in 2023, said Deputy Press Secretary Benjamin Craig — more than triple the number of passport assistance requests in the first seven months of 2022.
“We’re tackling them,” Senate Aide Wendy Del Carmen said after the press briefing.
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in a statement Tuesday his office has also “seen a big jump in passport cases, as interest in international travel ramped up after the pandemic.” Three staffers are now trained to work on the issue, he said.
“We have had a lot of success clearing passport logjams for constituents, but I encourage all Rhode Islanders considering travel abroad to check your passport and start the renewal process with as much lead time as possible,” Whitehouse said.
James Kwon, spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Seth Magaziner (D-R.I.) said in an email Tuesday “our constituent services team has been working to expedite Rhode Islanders’ passport requests, and have successfully resolved 148 of the 160 requests for assistance that we have received this year.”
To address the backlog, Reed said his office is working with the State Department to get additional staff and increase the number of in-person passport appointments.
“Secretary Blinken is aware of the issue and assured us he is putting all his resources toward this end,” Reed said.
Reed also highlighted the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act in the Senate just prior to Congress’ August recess — a bill which he said includes language to improve passport processes.
“Specifically, it will help surge new personnel and enhance transparency for online tracking of your application,” Reed said.
Reed added that he is working with his Senate colleagues to ensure the State Department implements systemic fixes that will streamline and speed up the passport application process.
The senator’s office also plans to hold a passport fair with State Department experts in September to assist Rhode Islanders ahead of the holiday season.
As the federal government works to ease the backlog, Reed offered the following “travel hacks” to do in order to avoid any last-minute headaches before your next international trip:
- Plan ahead: Check your passport, know the expiration date and renew either on- or ahead of schedule. Some countries require that a passport be valid at least six months beyond the dates of a trip.
- Double check your work before you submit your application.
Doing these steps, Reed said, will greatly help alleviate his staff.
“The more time you give us, the better off we are to help you,” he said.
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