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Passport Backlog Blamed on New Requirements

A new law that went into effect in January requires U.S. citizens to have a passport when taking a plane to Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean. The change has created a huge demand that is peaking now that spring break is here and summer looms.

Part of the glut was due to new requirements for children and those traveling to places where previously only a birth certificate was needed. Now officials say that, just as they are catching up, they're bracing for summer travelers.

The State Department has waded through an unprecedented crush of applications, at the rate of more than 1 million per month.

Last week, the State Department issued a record 412,000 passports, the most ever in a seven-day period, topping a record set just the week before.

Even though the agency had geared up for the new law, passport centers were overwhelmed.

Processing times for standard applications jumped from eight weeks to three months or more, and the time for expedited applications — which cost an extra $59 — went from two weeks to four.

Maura Harty, the assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, says the department has hired extra staff to meet soaring demand. But she admits there still may be a few bugs in the system.

Harty suggests that travelers with questions e-mail through the State Department's Web site, or try calling its hotline (at 877-487-2778) during early off-hour times. But her best advice, she says, is to apply for passports as early as possible.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.