Do you have plans to travel outside of the U.S. for the holidays? If so, go grab your passport right now and ensure it is, and will be, valid during your scheduled trip.
Generally speaking, you need a valid passport to enter other countries and to return to the U.S. (with exceptions). Moreover, foreign nations commonly require that you have sufficient blank pages for visa/entry stamping. Some also require that you have at least six months of validity remaining on your passport to be admitted past their borders. Be sure to check the entry requirements for your destination country well in advance so that you can plan for your successful vacation.
If you find that you are in need of passport services, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) isn’t well-positioned to give you an early holiday present this year. Current processing times for routine passport services are at 6-9 weeks. While this represents a modest improvement from the lengthy processing times during the pandemic, it remains longer than pre-pandemic numbers, when processing times were closer to 4 weeks. Even expedited processing is taking around 3-5 weeks, begging the question of whether DOS should consider renaming it to “slightly-faster-than-normal-for-a-fee” processing.
DOS does offer other tiers of processing service, which include:
- Life or death emergencies: you may be eligible for this discretionary emergency processing if you need to travel international within three business days because your immediate family member outside the U.S. has died, is dying, or has a life-threatening illness or injury. You will be required to provide proof to support your request.
- Urgent (non-emergency) travel: for this option, your international travel must be within 14 days. You must call the local passport office to make an appointment. Therefore, the availability of this option is dependent upon your ability to schedule an appointment. Predictably, appointment availability continues to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and public health measures. If you are able to get an agent on the line and if there is an appointment slot, you may get lucky with this option for only an additional $60 expedite fee.
- Expedited processing: if your travel is within 3-5 weeks and you need to renew your passport, you may request expedited processing with by mail or by appointment at an acceptance facility. This also requires an additional $60 expedite fee.
DOS has promised more staff to help reduce these delays and, while currently closed to new applicants, the agency recently launched a brand new online renewal portal that it hopes will also help to alleviate backlogs. It does note, though, that renewing online does not presently take any less time than doing so by mail under existing methods. DOS plans to have a full launch for the general public in early 2023.
While this post has focused on U.S. passport services, we’d be remiss to not comment on the topic of permanent resident cards (“green cards”). Lawful permanent residents need a valid green card to enter the U.S. Under no circumstances are you permitted to enter using your foreign passport.
If your green card is expired or about to expire, and you have not already undertaken corrective action, you may have to remain stateside this holiday season. Current estimated processing times of Form I-90 Applications to Replace Permanent Resident Cards are at 17 months.
It is perplexing why it takes USCIS so long to accept a fee and issue a new card for an applicant that has already been statutorily approved as a permanent resident since they are literally just issuing a new document. But such is the machinations of agency operations. The only other option at your disposal is to request an Infopass appointment at your local USCIS office to seek an I-551 stamp. An I-551 stamp is placed into your passport and serves as temporary evidence of permanent resident status while a green card renewal/replacement is being processed. To do this, you must call USCIS’s Contact Center and navigate the infuriating automated options.
Pro tip: say “infopass” to help bypass the tiers and get an agent on the phone and then cross your fingers.
As with all things immigration, you must plan well in advance to set yourself up for smooth sailing.