The ability to renew American passports online has advanced another step closer to reality: As part of a pilot program, the State Department has recently accepted the first 25,000 online renewal applications; the public rollout is expected to begin in the first quarter of next year.
It is hoped that the new system will make renewing a U.S. passport easier than ever before by reducing costs and paperwork.
The current process for renewing a U.S. passport can be a major hassle for many people. An in-person appointment may be necessary, and the application process can take anywhere from eight to eleven weeks. However, in response to an executive order from Vice President Biden aimed at improving the government’s interaction with the public, the Department of State has been developing a new electronic system “that does not require any physical documents to be mailed.”
In February, the pilot program began with federal employees and contractors, and on August 2, a “limited” version of the initiative was made available to the general public. On August 12th, after 25,000 applications had been received, the application website was shut down.
The State Department is conducting functional tests during the pilot to ensure the system operates as designed. Officials will keep the public updated on the site, but early 2023 is the current goal.
Those who were accepted into the pilot program can anticipate the new remote processing time to be between eight and eleven weeks, as was previously the case with mailed applications, according to NerdWallet’s Sara Rathner. Mailing in an application can add up to two weeks to this timeline, so applying online will save you time, she says.
The official rollout of the online process is still a few months away, so it may be tempting to put off renewing a passport that is about to expire. However, experts advise against doing so. Rathner advises that passport applications not be delayed until the online system is back up and running if a trip is imminent. Travelers can avoid waiting the standard eight weeks by opting for the faster expedited service for an additional fee.
Also, the passport holder needs to have been at least 16 years old when they first applied for a passport in order to be eligible for mail renewal. In addition to having been issued within the last 15 years, the original passport must be in pristine condition (barring any wear and tear associated with normal use) and bear the individual’s current name (or proof of name change).
The onset of the pandemic made that already difficult task exponentially more so. “Since COVID, U.S. passport agencies work on reduced capacities, and that resulted in enormous backlog,” says Lynn Minnaert, formerly of NYU’s Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality. This caused applications to take as long as four months to process last summer. She also mentions that she’s heard of people camping out overnight to secure in-person renewal appointments.
The new, simpler approach has its drawbacks, however, as it requires the submitter to reveal sensitive information online. Experts, however, say that is not a cause for alarm. To which Minnaert replies, “Many of us shop online, bank online, and manage personal information online.” He goes on to point out that both the United Kingdom and India already have online passport renewal systems. The State Department advises, “Of course, people should be cautious that they do not use fraudulent sites to apply; they should carefully check the URL or application link to ensure that they are dealing with the State Department, and not an imposter.”
If you’re going to apply for a passport online, Rathner advises, “Don’t complete these tasks on public Wi-Fi; applying for a passport online is best done at home on your own password-protected Wi-Fi.”
The benefits of a simplified passport process will soon be realized by American tourists. According to Minnaert, “this will save traveling Americans so much time and frustration.” I think it won’t be long before we wonder how we got passports any other way.
Since its initial release, this article has been revised to incorporate newly available data.
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