Why applying for passports is so not fun

By | July 16, 2015

To: U.S. Representative Michael E. Capuano

Dear Rep. Capuano,

The subject of this message is unacceptable performance from the agency responsible for issuing U.S. passports.

My wife submitted three passport applications, for three of our minor children, on the same day — June 12.

Two of the three passports for which we applied arrived over a week ago. The third still has not arrived.

So, the first problem here is that there is something very wrong and unfair with whatever system the agency is using to queue passport applications, if three essentially identical passport applications submitted on the same day can end up being processed more than a week apart.

I checked the status of the missing passport’s application on the agency web site, and was told this:

“Thank you for submitting your application for a U.S. passport book! It is currently being processed. Your passport application locator number is [deleted]. When you applied, you requested Routine Service. See our website for more information on current Processing Times. We are processing Routine Applications in approximately 4 to 6 weeks from the time of application.”

That’s completely useless. It tells me nothing whatsoever about why the third passport for which we applied has been delayed. So the second problem here is that the web site should provide more useful status information than it does.

Therefore, I tried again to get some useful information about the status of the application, this time by emailing NPIC@state.gov as instructed on the web site, which also says, “(Most email inquiries are answered within 24 hours”).

I did not receive a response to my email for more than four days, three of which were weekdays. So the third problem here is that it shouldn’t have taken that long for them to reply to my email.

Worse, when I finally got a response after more than four days, it was useless: “Due to ongoing website issues and upgrades, we are unable to reference your application.” Fourth problem: if you tell people they can contact you by email, and people contact you by email, then you should give them a useful response to their email.

The email suggested that I try calling on the phone. It seemed rather unlikely to me that, after both the web site and email failed to yield any useful information, a phone call would have any more success, but I decided to try it anyway.

Problem five: I waited more than 24 minutes on hold before I got to speak to a human being. That’s completely unacceptable.

While I was waiting, I repeatedly heard this message — “We are experiencing unusually high call volumes causing longer than normal wait times. You may wish to use our web site…” I’m fairly certain that “unusually high call volumes” is a lie. There is nothing special about 9:30am on a Thursday morning in July. If the wait times are 20+ minutes now, they’re almost certainly 20+ minutes on a regular basis. It’s unacceptable to tell people that the problem is “unusually high call volumes” when the real problem is “we don’t have enough staff to be able to answer calls in a timely fashion.”

When I finally did get through on the phone, the representative with whom I spoke was, indeed, unable to give me any useful information about when the third passport would arrive.

So I wasted time checking the web site; wasted time trying to get an answer via email; and wasted time waiting on hold and speaking with someone on the phone. This is not ok.

Passports are RIDICULOUSLY EXPENSIVE, especially kids’ passports that are only good for five years. For the amount of money we paid to be able to exercise our right to travel as U.S. citizens — and to be clear, I don’t think we should have to pay AT ALL to be able to exercise that right — I expect the relevant government agency to do a FAR better job than this.


Jonathan Kamens

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

2 thoughts on “Why applying for passports is so not fun

  1. Lisa

    I know this is old, but I’m in a similar-ish boat. I applied for passports for me and my 3 minor children on the same day. Their dad and myself are separated so I used a separation agreement which is a formal notarized document which gives me sole legal custody of the children (although not court ordered). This was accepted at the post office I applied at. However, I got my passport back in about 2 weeks and 3 weeks in for the kids… nothing. I didn’t pay for expedited for any of ours so I don’t know why mine was done so quick and I have no idea what’s up with theirs. Did everything turn out to be routine with your 3rd child’s passport? How much later did you receive it (if you remember)? Thanks!

    1. jik Post author

      In our case, the problem turned out to be that our son was wearing his skullcap — which he wears all the time for religious reasons — in his passport photo, and that delayed his application, because the passport processing center had to send us a letter requiring that we either submit new photos without the skullcap or send a letter attesting that he wears the skullcap all the time for religious reasons; we did the latter.

      The passport photos that we sent with my son’s application were taken at the post office immediately before submitting the application. the clerk who took the photos and processed the application said nothing to us about the skullcap potentially being an issue. He should have mentioned it.

      But of course, that doesn’t excuse the complete lack of transparency about delays.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *