Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) has introduced the Passport Emergency Extension Act of 2021 (H.R. 4615) with lead co-sponsor Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ) to ensure American citizens are able to travel while the U.S. State Department addresses serious delays in processing passport applications.
Smith’s legislation would require the U.S. Secretary of State to establish an expedited procedure to renew or extend the period of validity for all U.S. passports that expired during the COVID-19 crisis, or before March 31, 2022, according to a press release.
Smith also commended and thanked Monmouth County Clerk Christine Hanlon for suggesting a similar solution in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“As Americans resume regular travel, passport agencies have been overwhelmed by an urgent need for updated travel documents,” said Smith.
According to the press release, Smith has successfully expedited passport renewals for 375 constituents — including 125 since the beginning of June — who otherwise would not have received their updated passport in time to travel.
“Temporarily extending the expiration of all valid U.S. passports would give the State Department the necessary time to catch up on processing requests and much-needed relief as it resumes its full capacity operations and adjusts to the growing number of Americans who need passports to travel for medical treatments, attend weddings and funerals, visit relatives overseas, conduct business and go on vacation,” Smith said.
“Congressman Smith’s legislation is urgently needed to improve the unprecedented passport issuance delays faced by frantic residents who are scheduled to leave the country to travel abroad and who have not received their passports in time,” Hanlon was quoted as saying in the press release.
Hanlon’s office assists Monmouth County residents with passport applications that are then forwarded to the State Department for renewal.
“These delays have reached crisis proportions and addressing the current passport backlog to ensure that current wait times can be mitigated must be a top priority,” she said.
The State Department, which is responsible for the issuance and renewal of passports, currently recommends that Americans apply six months before planned travel for passport requests, which can take the department more than four months to process, according to the press release from Smith’s office.
In early July, the State Department — which reportedly faces a backlog of 2.17 million requests for travel documents — noted it received 310,000 new applications in a single week for passports, a vital document for travel and proof of U.S. citizenship.
“While some progress is being made, local passport agencies have been inundated with requests, making it difficult to promptly meet the great demand for renewed and new passports for American citizens — who need and deserve these important documents to exercise their right to travel,” Smith said.
“I thank Clerk Hanlon for her tireless and dedicated work to help Monmouth County residents navigate the unacceptable wait times they are experiencing for passport requests,” he said.