- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The State Department — overwhelmed by unprecedented demand — is warning would-be travelers to brace for lengthy delays in getting U.S. passports, even when they pay a hefty fee to speed their applications.

The department has hired hundreds of employees to process passport requests in the past two years as tougher immigration rules have taken effect. Even so, the department says, a crush of new applicants — more than 1 million a month — has inundated its staff and caused delays of up to 11/2 months at the peak January-to-April season when many people are preparing to travel over the spring and summer.

In addition, a regulation that took effect this year requiring Americans to have passports when traveling by air to or from any foreign country, including Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean “has increased passport demand and production to record levels,” the department said this week.

Applications received between October and this March have risen 44 percent over the same period in 2005 and 2006, the department said in a notice sent yesterday to lawmakers. Some members of Congress have received complaints from constituents about delays.

According to the notice, routine passport processing could take 10 weeks instead of the previous six, and expedited processing could take four weeks instead of two weeks.

About 12 million passport applications were processed in fiscal 2006 and as many as 17 million are expected in fiscal 2007, the department said.

For adults getting their first passports, the routine processing fee is $97 with an additional $60 charge for expedited service. Passport renewals for adults cost $67, with the same expedited fee.

The department said that by the end of next year it plans to have hired 400 passport adjudicators since 2004.

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