Dr. Boozman's Check-up

***UPDATE: The U.S. Department of State is now advising Americans who plan to travel abroad to apply for a passport at least six months before their trip. 

new alert on passport operations warns that routine passport applications may take up to 18 weeks. Expedited requests (with additional fees) may take up to 12 weeks.

Some passport facilities across the country are offering extremely limited appointments for Americans traveling within three days. To schedule an appointment use the agency’s Online Appointment System. Arkansans who cannot get an appointment at the facility in Hot Springs are encouraged to look for appointments at nearby facilities in Dallas and New Orleans.***

As I travel around Arkansas it is exciting to see all of the things that are returning to normal this summer. However, if you plan to go outside the continental United States or have a family member who wants to visit from another country, you may find that many of those processes are still anything but normal.

There are many factors causing delays and making certain types of travel difficult. Travelers need to plan ahead further in advance, be prepared to jump through new hoops and understand that some trips still aren’t possible. 

First, it is important to know that passport services are still delayed. Due to COVID-19, the lack of passport processing last year created a backlog and increased demands on the U.S. Passport Service. Travelers should plan for a routine application to take 10 to 12 weeks and an expedited passport to take four to six weeks.

For the last month, my office has been inundated with calls from Arkansans with passport problems. Unfortunately, officials cannot guarantee processing of last-minute requests for tourist and business travel. It has been very difficult to get an appointment with passport officials less than two weeks from a trip. If you plan to travel this fall, now is the time to check the expiration date on your passport or apply for a new one. The latest information can be found at travel.state.gov/passports

The second challenge involves visitors from other parts of the world who need a visitor visa to see friends and family in the U.S. Many of our embassies around the world are still operating at very limited capacity and not processing routine visas. Most are prioritizing life and death emergencies, critical workers and students registered in academic programs which means they are not issuing visas for typical tourism or business travel to the U.S. The best place to check on the status of each embassy is on the State Department’s website.

My staff and I are always happy to inquire with the appropriate agencies to find out what is possible. However, we have had to manage our expectations and let many people know that the visit they hoped for this summer cannot happen until our embassies return to normal.

The third challenge we are seeing is with pre-travel testing for COVID-19, particularly for islands within the United States and its territories. These small, isolated locations are appropriately vigilant about the spread of COVID-19 and often have very specific rules. It is critical that travelers to places like Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands carefully review the requirements before boarding a plane. Unfortunately, Arkansans have tested negative for COVID-19 and been forced to either leave or quarantine because they did not get their test at a preapproved location. 

The bottom line is that we all need to plan ahead and have patience this summer. Employees at these agencies are working hard to help as many Americans as they can, as quickly as possible. Hopefully we will begin to see rapid improvement in these processes and continue our march toward normalcy. As always, if you have any problems involving a federal government agency, please feel free to reach out to my office.