WASHINGTON - Processing times for U.S. passport applications have returned to pre-pandemic levels, the U.S. State Department announced Monday.
As of December 18, 2023, the agency said passport applications will be processed within 6-8 weeks for routine service and 2-3 weeks for expedited service, which costs an additional $60.
"With this update, we have fulfilled our commitment to return to benchmarks from March 2020," the department said in a statement. "This reflects the work of dedicated employees working for the American people."
This news follows a surge in overseas travel earlier this year, which caused processing times between 10 to 13 weeks.
Travelers take out their passports before checking in at San Diego International Airport January 8, 2006 in San Diego, California. (Credit: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
In July, passport seekers described to The Associated Press a slow-motion agony of waiting, worrying, holding the line, refreshing the screen, complaining to Congress, paying extra fees and following incorrect directions. Some applicants even bought additional plane tickets to snag in-process passports in other cities in time to make the flights they booked in the first place.
"With COVID, the bottom basically dropped out of the system," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a House subcommittee March 23. When demand for travel all but disappeared during the pandemic, he said, the government let contractors go and reassigned staff that had been dedicated to handling passports.
Between October 2022 and September 2023, more than 24 million passport books and cards were issued – the most ever in American history, according to the State Department.
Today, nearly half of Americans have a U.S. passport, with more than 160 million in circulation. Only 5% of Americans had a passport in 1990.
"We have worked hard to modernize and improve the service we provide to the American people. We will continue to do so in 2024," the State Department continued.
The agency said it still encourages U.S. citizens traveling overseas to renew their passports early.
This story was reported from Los Angeles.