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US is working to meet “unprecedented demand” for passports

(CNN) — US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Thursday that the State Department is facing “unprecedented demand” for passports and has increased staff and resources to address the situation.

Blinken said the current wait time for a regular passport is “about 10 to 13 weeks, and seven to nine weeks for an expedited passport.”

The State Department “receives 500,000 passport applications a week,” a 30 to 40% increase from last year, Blinken told a House Appropriations Subcommittee budget hearing.

“Historically, demand has been cyclical, with peak season from March to late summer. Now we’re working full-time,” he explained.

“We’re hiring staff to increase adjudication capacity and ensure that… We have customer service, we have phone lines, we have more people on hold and that’s reflected in the budget. It’s very important,” he said.

The head of US diplomacy said he had “created a task force at headquarters to bring all these efforts together, so we’re working on that.”

American passports.

“We’re authorizing overtime, we’re opening satellite offices, we’re setting up hubs at headquarters with processing hours to help with processing,” Blinken said.

He noted that the department has launched a pilot online renewal platform for Americans who already have passports to renew their passports online, but “is on hold right now to make sure we refine and develop it before a larger rollout.”

“We expect that 65% of passport renewal customers will be able to do it online when the program is fully operational,” Blinken said.

“I think it’s very important to be as clear and transparent as possible with people looking for passports so they know what to expect,” he added.

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As for visas, Blinken said delays are starting to improve. “Students, temporary workers, business travelers, maritime workers” are prioritized, “trying to make sure they’re taken care of and we’re at pre-pandemic levels or better in those categories.”

“For visitor visas, the global average waiting time for an interview appointment is two months, which is half of what it was a year ago,” he explained, but added that “in most places” waiting times are shorter.

“Immigrant visas are a completely different issue. We’re doing a lot of work on that,” he said.