Passport processing taking much longer than usual because of nationwide backlog

ATLANTA — A nationwide backlog is causing delays for passport processing, causing frustration and desperation among those with expired passports who are trying to leave the country.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Jennifer Ratliff, a Floyd County mother who spent seven hours on Friday trying to update her son’s passport. “You had to get online and get an appointment, and I’ve been working on it for three days now.”

A process that could take weeks before COVID-19 is now taking more than four months on average, according to the U.S. State Department. Many travelers let their passports expire during the pandemic, and an increase in travel demand combined with staffing shortages is fueling the backlog.

Employees at the Atlanta Passport Agency office downtown have been able to process some but not all pending passport applications on the same day, if an applicant’s upcoming flight is within three days. Passport appointments are typically required, but can be difficult to get online.

“I was physically sick,” said Greer Martin, a Forsyth County mother. “I mean, I couldn’t sleep at night thinking we would have to cancel a flight we had already canceled before because of COVID-19.”

She applied for a renewal in March ahead of a June flight to Mexico. It was only because of the help of a stranger on Facebook who saw a post she made and gave away a passport appointment that she was able to get an appointment within days of her flight.

“This girl, I don’t know her,” said Martin, “and she said, ‘Hey, I have an appointment in Atlanta at 10 a.m., can you make it?’ And I’m like, ‘Yes!’”

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Channel 2 consumer advisor Clark Howard says to expect the delays to continue while there’s a shortage of workers.

“If you’ve done everything you should and your passport hasn’t been produced, call your congressman or senator’s local office,” said Howard. “They have contacts at the state department, and they tend to be able to push those passports along.”

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