By LISA RATHKE
ST. ALBANS, Vt. (AP) — The U.S. Passport Agency ended its no appointment walk-in service at its Vermont’s office after it was overwhelmed by people seeking the documents amid a backlog of 1.5 million requests nationwide, the State Department said Thursday.
Dozens of desperate travelers from throughout the Northeast had been traveling to the St. Albans office after getting word people could get passports on the spot and struggling to make appointments at other offices.
The Vermont Passport Agency had been offering appointment slots from no-shows to last-minute customers on its premises, the State Department said in a statement on Thursday.
The agency has “discontinued this practice due to unintended safety and security consequences,” it said.
More than 20 people, including small children, were waiting outside the Vermont office Thursday despite the policy change.
“I think it’s unfair that you’re going to change your policy overnight and not notify anybody,” said Dina Singh who arrived in Vermont at 5:30 a.m. on Thursday after driving overnight from New York with her husband and their 5-year-old daughter.
Singh said her family is supposed to fly out on Friday for a trip with other relatives, including grandparents, to St. Martin and had been trying for weeks to get an appointment in New York without success.
On Wednesday, the State Department said that the wait for a passport is now between 12 weeks and 18 weeks, even if people pay for expedited processing. That’s because of ripple effects from the coronavirus pandemic that caused extreme disruptions to the process at domestic issuance facilities and overseas embassies and consulates.
Currently, the State Department is accepting appointments at the Vermont Passport Agency and other public passport agencies for life-or-death emergencies. A limited number of appointments for urgent, non-life-or-death travel within 72 hours can be made online.
Some people outside the Vermont office Thursday, who had already booked overseas flights, said they’d waited on hold on the phone for hours and had been unable to get those appointments. Others said they needed passports to visit family, sick relatives or attend relatives’ weddings.
The State Department said it is increasing its staffing throughout the United States after staff reductions implemented at the start of the pandemic, but there is still a backlog of 1.5 million to 2 million passport requests. Applications submitted now probably will not be processed until the fall, the department said.
“We really encourage folks to apply for or renew their passport at least six months ahead of when you’ll need one to avoid any of those last-minute problems,” Rachel Arndt, deputy assistant secretary of state for passport services, said Wednesday.