Oregon’s congressional delegation is calling on the U.S. State Department to speed passport processing as Oregonians risk missing overseas travel, weddings, business trips and humanitarian visits.
Higher demand increased routine processing times for passports up to 13 weeks, and people who pay $60 extra for expedited processing can still wait seven to nine weeks, according to a letter Oregon’s eight congressional members sent Thursday to the assistant secretary of state for consular affairs.
U.S. Rep. Val Hoyle, a Democrat who represents Eugene and southwestern Oregon, spearheaded the letter and spent part of Thursday talking with constituents about passport woes at a facility in Eugene. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats, signed on, as did Democratic Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici and Andrea Salinas and Republican Reps. Cliff Bentz and Lori Chavez-DeRemer.
“Our offices have received a dramatic increase in casework requests from constituents who need assistance receiving their passport before travel,” they wrote.
Hoyle’s spokeswoman shared snippets of some of the more than 80 requests Hoyle received from constituents over the past few weeks. One discovered shortly before departing for an overseas wedding that their passport was expired, and the person couldn’t get an appointment at any passport office in the country. Another had been waiting nine weeks after submitting a passport renewal application online and planned to travel to Ghana in June.
“I have an important family event in Mexico and have plane tickets,” another Oregonian wrote to Hoyle’s office. “I have been checking my passport status everyday and it says in process. I have called the 1-800 number and no one could tell me where my application is in the process but suggested I request to expedite it. I sent an email requesting to expedite and have not gotten a reply. I am the only member of my family who has not gotten their passport. I am hoping there is some way to expedite it. I am willing to travel to Seattle to get it if needed.”
Oregonians can submit passport applications at about 75 locations statewide, mostly post offices and county clerk’s offices. Passports are then processed at about 25 passport agencies, most concentrated on the East Coast. The closest office to Oregon is in Seattle, Washington followed by San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. Denver and Tucson, Arizona, also have federal passport agencies.
“While people traveling internationally can apply in-person at a passport agency, if their international travel is within 14 days, the absence of an Oregon-based passport agency means Oregonians must travel across state lines, with some living a nearly seven-hour drive away from the nearest passport agency,” the delegation wrote in their letter.
Salinas’ office helped one Oregon man whose passport application was incorrectly sent to the New Orleans agency, spokeswoman Teddy Lake said. Salinas intervened and got it sent to Seattle instead, and the man spent a day in Seattle to finally get his passport before a trip to visit family in Africa. The man is still waiting on a refund for the second fee he paid for expedited processing after the passport agency took so long to process his first application.
A caseworker with Chavez-DeRemer’s office helped a constituent track down his daughter’s passport before a wedding in Mexico, spokesman Aaron Britt said by email.
“Luckily, our caseworker was able to work with the agency, and it all worked out!” Britt wrote.
Bonamici spokeswoman Natalie Crofts said the office received about 50 requests for help with passports in the past month. Most got their passports on time, but others had to postpone or cancel their trips.
The congressional delegation recommended that Oregonians submit passport applications before booking international trips and keep in mind current processing times of 10-13 weeks for routine applications and 7-9 weeks for expedited applications.
The State Department says people with urgent travel plans must make appointments at a passport agency by calling 1-877-487-2778, though the department acknowledged that some customers face extended wait times when calling.
Oregon Capital Chronicle
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