U.S. State Department Issues Passport Operations Update for Phased Reopening

The United States Department of State has issued an update to U.S. Passport Operations as of September 10, 2020, that it is “resuming operations in phases” as “global conditions evolve” around the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. The announcement of reopenings comes months after the State Department “significantly reduced passport operations in March 2020.” The website states that expedited processing at acceptance facilities are temporarily suspended, along with renewal by mail. For the week ending September 10, 2020, there were approximately 944,000 passports awaiting issuance. A footnote indicates that all March applications have been processed. The number has gone up since last week, when it was slightly down over the prior week.

The State Department has also answered some FAQs or frequently asked questions about passport operations, which we have summarized here:

  • How many passport operation agencies and centers are open right now?

As of September 8, 2020, there were 15 agencies and centers in Phase 1 of reopening and 11 in Phase 2. However, both phases only involve granting appointments to those traveling for “life or death emergencies.” Phase 3 will open up appointments for those traveling within a 2-week period. There is no update on when all services will resume normalcy. The image below depicts the three phases and what they entail.

U.S State Department Passport Operations Update

  • Which passport operations centers and agencies are open right now, as of September 10, 2020?

The State Department has provided a list of currently open locations of passport centers and agencies that have reopened as of September 8, 2020. The following passport operations agencies and centers are open in the phases mentioned:

Status of reopening of passport centers and agencies by phase as of Sep 8, 2020

  • How is the term “life or death emergency” defined?

Per the U.S. Department of State, an emergency can be considered “life or death” if a member of your immediate family or a guardian is either seriously ill, injured, or has passed on. This includes parents, siblings, legal guardians, grandparents, children, and spouses, and involves the need to travel within the next 72 hours. In such cases, three types of documents must be provided:

  1. The application for the passport with all supporting documents
  2. A document proving the emergency, which includes either a letter from a medical professional or hospital, a mortuary statement, or a death certificate. The certificates must be issued in or translated to English
  3. Documents to prove that you are traveling – airline ticket/itinerary/reservations
  • How do I get a status update on my passport application?

Status updates are available from seven to 10 days after the application has been submitted. The online passport status system – https://passportstatus(dot)state(dot)gov/ – will be updated with your information within that time. Due to the unusually high volume of applications, there could be delays, according to the State Department.

  • My check has been cashed but I don’t see the status being updated.

Per the State Department, the first step in the process is to cash your check at the central receiving facility. Once the staff at the applicable center or agency has returned to work – based on the phase-wise approach mentioned above – the other documents are expected to be processed and the status updated.

  • Can my passport application be expedited?

No, says the State Department’s website. Unless you can prove that you need to travel due to a life or death emergency, no expedited passport applications will be processed at this time. This facility will only be available after Phase 3 of reopening has been implemented. There’s no firm timeline provided for this.

  • Can I get a refund on the $60 expedited service fee?

Yes, you can request a refund of this fee. However, no refund requests are being entertained for any other fees or expenses related to your passport application. As of March 19, 2020, the expedited passport service was stopped; it is not expected to start again until Phase 3 has been implemented at the corresponding passport agency or center.

  • Can I apply for a new passport or a renewal now?

The website says that you can but adds the stipulation that “you will experience delays before receiving your passport and the return of your citizenship documents such as previous passports, and birth and naturalization certificates.” It also estimates a return to normal processing “this fall.”

  • Are REAL IDs mandatory this year from October 1, 2020, for domestic travel?

The deadline for mandatory REAL IDs for domestic travel has been extended by a period of one year, which means it will come into effect on October 1, 2021.

Editor’s Note: A REAL ID is related to the REAL ID Act passed by Congress in 2005, which “established minimum security standards for license issuance and production and prohibits Federal agencies from accepting for certain purposes driver’s licenses and identification cards from states not meeting the Act’s minimum standards.” The purpose of a REAL ID is for “accessing Federal facilities, entering nuclear power plants, and, no sooner than 2016, boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft.”

  • Can I apply for a passport if I’m overseas?

U.S. citizens overseas are being provided with emergency and, in some instances, routine passport services at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. It is advised that you check with your nearest consulate or embassy regarding passport services.

The U.S. Department of State update closes with a final note:

“Customers should expect delays when applying for non-emergency passport or citizenship services. We hope to return to normal passport processing, as soon as it is safe for us to do so.”

That leaves a wide-open timeline for resumption to normalcy. Unless a vaccine is available soon or the rates of infection in the worst-hit parts of the country abate, there’s no predicting when passport services will return to normal. Since the State Department does not specifically tell us the duration of each phase, it’s hard to know when and which agencies and centers will enter Phase 3.

Meanwhile, here is a quick list of countries that have a ‘Level 4 – Do Not Travel’ designation, as mentioned in the State Department website:

Advisory Level Date Updated
Afghanistan Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 24, 2020
Argentina Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Belize Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 11, 2020
Bhutan Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Bolivia Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Brazil Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Burkina Faso Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Burundi Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 11, 2020
Central African Republic Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 31, 2020
China Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel June 5, 2020
Colombia Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Costa Rica Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Cuba Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Dominican Republic Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Egypt Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
El Salvador Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Eswatini Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
French Guiana Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Guatemala Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Guyana Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Haiti Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Honduras Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
India Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Indonesia Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Iran Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Iraq Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 12, 2020
Kazakhstan Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Kosovo Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Libya Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Malawi Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Mali Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Mongolia Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Namibia Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Nicaragua Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Oman Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Panama Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Peru Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Russia Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Somalia Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
South Sudan Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Syria Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Tajikistan Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
The Bahamas Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
The Kyrgyz Republic Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Turkmenistan Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 7, 2020
Venezuela Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020
Yemen Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel August 6, 2020

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