Passport Operations in Response to COVID-19

COVID-19 Alert
September 24, 2020

Update on U.S. Passport Operations

Safely Working For You

To prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect our workforce and customers, we significantly reduced passport operations in March 2020. We have temporarily suspended expedited passport processing for customers applying at an acceptance facility or renewing by mail. At our passport agencies and centers, we have restricted in person service and expedited passport processing to cases involving life-or-death emergencies.

As global conditions evolve and U.S. states begin to reopen, we are resuming operations in phases. We ask for your patience as we safely work on your application.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the current status of passport operations?

As of Tuesday, September 8, there are 11 passport agencies and centers in phase two and 15 agencies and centers in phase one of our reopening plan. Go to our Passport Agency and Center page for more information.

Passport agencies and centers are only open to assist customers who need a passport in the next 72 hours (3 business days) for a life-or-death emergency. For the health and safety of employees and customers, we are minimizing the amount of time employees and customers spend together in our agencies and centers. Customers must make an appointment for life-or-death emergency service and cannot walk in to our agencies or centers. 

2. What services can I expect in each phase of reopening?

The Department will resume processing passports in phases, while protecting the safety of both our staff and our customers. Each passport agency or center will open on a different date based on local conditions. 

Phase 1: Limited staff will return to onsite work at agencies and centers, allowing us to resume limited processing of applications we already received. Applications will be processed in the order they were received by the agency or center on a first in, first out basis. We will continue to prioritize services for customers with life-or-death emergencies by appointment only. Customers must wear cloth face coverings in all common areas, including our lobbies, and observe strict social distancing. During phase one, we will continue to recommend customers wait to submit new or renewal applications as delays will continue.

Phase 2:  Most staff will return to onsite work at our agencies and centers, and we will be able to resume processing more of the applications we already received. Applications will be processed on a first in, first out basis, beginning with the oldest applications received. Our returned staff will continue to prioritize life-or-death emergency cases by appointment at our agencies and centers. Services offered at our agencies will continue to be by appointment only. Staff and customers should wear cloth face coverings in all common areas, including our lobbies, and continue to observe social distancing. During phase two, we will continue to recommend customers wait to submit new or renewal applications as delays will continue.

Phase 3:  All remaining staff return to onsite work at our agencies and centers. We will continue to process applications on a first in, first out basis, focusing on the oldest applications. You should continue to make an appointment to apply at an agency or center. Staff and customers should wear cloth face coverings in common areas and we will encourage social distancing. When all agencies and centers are in phase three, or our nationwide workload has returned to normal levels, we plan to resume expedited service.

3. Are you making progress on U.S. passport applications?

Yes. Every Thursday, we will publish U.S. passport statistics in the table below so you can track our weekly progress as staff at our agencies and centers safely work on applications. You can find historical U.S. passport statistics on our Reports and Statistics page.

Week (Thursday-Wednesday) Applications Received Passports Awaiting Issuance** Passports Issued*
This Week (Sep 17-Sep 23) 179,000 934,000 165,000
Last Week (Sep 10-Sep 16) 143,000 931,000 149,000
2 Weeks Ago (Sep 3-Sep 9) 110,000 944,000 129,000

*The number of passports issued can vary due to many factors such as staffing levels and local conditions which may require an agency to temporarily close.

**As of September 24, we have completed processing applications received in March, April, May, and June. We are making progress on applications received in July. Due to nationwide variations in staffing and the type of applications, some of our passport agencies and centers are already working on applications received in August and September. If you applied before July and have not received your passport yet, we may have sent you a letter requesting additional information to continue processing your application. Please respond to this letter.

4. Why can't employees work on passport applications from home?

Passport applications must be adjudicated in our agencies and centers to protect customers’ personally identifiable information and ensure the integrity of the application process. We maintain the highest standards of security and privacy protection for our customers, and must secure sensitive documents like birth certificates and naturalization certificates in our offices. We must also physically print and mail passport books and cards back to customers from our facilities. Our staff are returning to our agencies and centers in phases, and will immediately work to finalize pending applications.

5. What qualifies as a life-or-death emergency?

Life-or-death emergencies are serious illnesses, injuries, or deaths in your immediate family (parent, legal guardian, child, spouse, sibling, and grandparent) that require you to travel outside the United States within 72 hours (3 business days).

You must provide:

  • passport application with supporting documents
  • Proof of the life-or-death emergency such as a death certificate, a statement from a mortuary, or a signed letter from a hospital or medical professional. Documents must be in English or translated in English.
  • Proof of international travel (e.g. reservation, ticket, itinerary) specific to the emergency.

To make an appointment at a passport agency or center for a life-or-death emergency, you must call our National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778 (1-888-874-7793 TDD/TTY) on Monday- Friday, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern Time, except federal holidays. Call 202-647-4000 outside of these hours to make an appointment.

6. I already submitted an application. How long will it take for me to receive my passport and my citizenship evidence documents?

As additional employees return to our agencies and centers, we are working aggressively to address a high volume of pending applications. You will continue to experience delays receiving your passport and the return of your citizenship documents such as previous passports, and birth and naturalization certificates. You may check the status of your passport online or by calling the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778. Unfortunately, we are not able to return documents before your passport is completed. We ask for your patience as we safely work on your application.

7. Can I get a status update on my passport?

Yes. You can get a status update 7-10 business days after you have applied for your passport. Status updates are available online or by calling us at 1-877-487-2778. You can go to our Online Passport Status System and sign up for automatic email notifications about your passport status. You will receive an email when your passport is 1) In Process: your application is being reviewed at a passport agency or center, 2) Approved: your application has been approved and will be printed, and 3) Mailed. If you receive a status update of Not Found, your application is still in transit to one of our agencies and centers or we are experiencing a temporary, technical issue with our Online Passport Status System. 

Until we reach phase three, we will not be able to provide more specific processing times or status updates. 

8. Why did you cash my check if you are not updating my passport status?

One of the first steps in our process is handling passport fees at a central facility which receives your application, supporting documents, and payment by mail. While we can process payments at this first step of our process, we are not able to handle secure documents such as birth certificates remotely. Your applications and documents with personally identifiable information are secure. We will further process your application as our staff return in phases to our passport agencies and centers.

9. Can I expedite my passport?

No. In March, we temporarily suspended expedited passport processing for customers applying at an acceptance facility or renewing by mail. At our passport agencies and centers, we have restricted in person service and expedited passport processing to cases involving life-or-death emergencies.

You cannot upgrade your application to expedite service at this time. We plan to resume offering expedited processing times (meaning 2-3 weeks door-to-door service) after we first resume offering routine processing times in phase three. 

10. Can I request a refund?

If you paid the $60 fee for expedited service when you applied and you did not receive expedited service, you can request a refund of this fee. We cannot refund any other passport fees or your travel expenses if you miss your trip.

Please note we stopped offering expedited service on Thursday, March 19 and do not anticipate offering this service again until phase three of our reopening plan. You can learn more about how to request a refund of the expedited passport fee on our Refunds page.

11. Can I apply now?

Yes, you can still apply now. If you do not have a life-or-death emergency, you will experience delays before receiving your passport and the return of your citizenship documents such as previous passports, and birth and naturalization certificates. We anticipate a return to our normal processing times this fall.

If you need to apply in person (all children under age 16 and first-time applicants), you can apply at acceptance facilities which include post offices, clerk of courts, and libraries. Please contact your local acceptance facility to confirm if it is open or closed. If you want to apply at a post office, you will need to make an appointment directly on the USPS.com website.

12. Can I renew by mail?

Yes, you can still apply by mail. If you do not have a life-or-death emergency, you will experience delays before receiving your new passport and the return of your previous passport. We anticipate a return to our normal processing times this fall. 

You do not need to renew your passport before it expires unless you are planning to travel internationally. Customers eligible to renew their passport have up to five years to renew their document after it expires. After five years from the expiration date, you must apply in person. Most countries require that your U.S. passport have at least six months of validity beyond the dates of your trip. 

13. Is it safe to travel internationally?

Conditions vary depending upon location. We continue to recommend U.S. citizens exercise caution when traveling abroad due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic. Check our country-specific information pages to make an informed decision about your travel.

14. Will REAL ID still be enforced at airports later this year?

No. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) extended the deadline for REAL ID by one year until October 1, 2021. Beginning in October 2021, DHS will require customers to use a REAL ID to fly domestically. The most common REAL ID is a state-issued driver's license. A U.S. passport book and passport card are two of many alternative documents that customers can use to fly domestically if they do not have a state-issued REAL ID. For more information on REAL ID, go to DHS’ website.

15. How will the customer experience be different in the coming months?

Because we are resuming operations in phases and will not have full staffing in our agencies and centers until phase three, we will not immediately offer upgrades to expedited service and we will not be able to immediately commit to specific processing times for routine service.

We encourage customers to apply for passport services by mail where there is no need to be physically present at a passport office. Services by mail include passport renewals (for customers who meet certain criteria), name and data changes, and applying for a passport card or book if the customer is already in possession of one or the other document.

The health and safety of our customers and our employees will remain the highest priority as we reopen. At our agencies and centers, customers will notice measures to ensure social distancing in our waiting rooms with fewer chairs and appointments. Hours of operation may be different. Some of our acceptance facility partners may also stop offering walk-in services and may require appointments to ensure social distancing.

16. What about customers overseas who need a passport?

Our embassies and consulates are currently providing emergency passport services, and in some cases routine passport services, to U.S. citizens overseas. For passport services abroad, please contact the U.S. embassy or consulate closest to you.

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.

Resuming Passport Services During COVID-19

Watch this video to learn about our current operations during COVID-19 and plans to reopen in three phases.