Sunday, July 01, 2007

Tips on How to Survive the U.S. Passport Disaster

Brian Tamanaha

Earlier this week I posted on my unhappy experience with obtaining a passport. To make a long story short: Three months ago we applied for a passport, but it never came. Two and a half weeks prior to the departure date, we began calling the U.S. passport office several times a day. Most of the time the message said "too busy," call back later"; when we did get through, we were given misleading and different information. Finally, three days before departure, we lined up in front of the passport office at 6:30 a.m., with about a hundred people in front and many hundreds behind us in the line; it took 5 hours to get inside the building, and another 5 hours before the process was completed. It took 10 hours in all. Many people were desperate and angry, all were tired and irritated, some gave up and left, but most emerged from this ordeal with a passport in hand.

Rather than go on at length about how inane the situation is, I figured it would be more productive to offer a few tips from a survivor:

1. PAY FOR AN EXPEDITED PASSPORT. This is important, and it should be done even if you apply long before your trip (as we did). Judging from what I have learned from many others, it appears that just about everyone who made this request received their passport. My guess is that regular passport applications go into the "don't have to do box." (after 11 weeks at the passport office, absolutely nothing had been done on my application). Paying extra for an ordinary service hurts, of course, but what we went though was much more painful.

2. CALL YOUR CONGRESSIONAL OFFICE IF YOU HAVE NOT RECEIVED A PASSPORT WITHIN 14 DAYS OF YOUR DEPARTURE DATE. I called five days before departure, and they were very helpful, but it was too late. Two days after I called the congressional office, the passport office contacted us to say they were processing our request, but by then we had already gone through the day of hell at their office. This can work, but don't delay your call. They are well aware of the situation.

3. IF YOU LIVE NEAR A PASSPORT OFFICE, MAKE AN APPOINTMENT AS SOON AS YOU CAN (allowed within 14 days of travel). This tip can cut the time you spend at the passport office in half. People who had appointments did not wait in line outside as long as people who did not have appointments. Do not listen to the operators who answer the passport office phone lines--I learned from one that they work for a subcontractor, not the passport office--if they tell you to wait before making an appointment, or if they tell you that your passport will be or is being processed. That's what we were told; by the time we realized that it was not going to happen, the appointments were filled for the next week. Schedule the appointment for 3 or 4 days before your departure. If you do get the passport in the mail (or receive notification that it is being mailed), you can rejoice and skip the appointment. By the way, it's not really an "appointment." It just means that you and another 100 or so people can go in together at a certain time, and even then you might not be let in until and hour or more after the stated time. Ask for the earliest appointment in the morning--cascading delays develop after that.

4. YOU CAN GET IN LINE WITHIN THREE DAYS BEFORE YOUR DEPARTURE, even if you don't have an appointment (though try to secure a "referral" from an operator). This is painful, and plan to spend the entire day, but if you have no other option, this can work. Do not do this on the day of travel.

Good luck.


The Washington Post just had an article about the Passport backlog



I certainly hope you and your family are abroad right now, but I think others in the original thread already dealt with this issue below: there are more important things than rich Americans who can't get their passport.

Specifically, these posts:

# posted by Dilan : 6:12 PM

"You know, this passport thing is a huge problem, made worse by both an unresponsive bureaucracy (really, one of the worst things about modern government is that somewhere along the line government agencies started getting the idea that they had the right not to answer their phones with live persons and provide information regarding the status of matters within their offices!); and also by a too-quick implementation of the new Canada/Mexico/Carribean travel passport rules.

That said, I have to say that there is a certain part of me that is actually unsympathetic. Here's a bunch of people mad because they may not be able to go on foreign summer vacations because of government incompetence. Meanwhile, this is the experience of government EVERY DAY for poor people dealing with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, WIC, the Department of Public Social Services, county jails, Medicaid, public hospitals (see, for instance, the recent death in the emergency room of LA King-Harbor Hospital), and all sorts of other government agencies that are underfunded and overwhelmed.

Really, there's a lot of class bias in both the reporting of this story and the calls for its resolution. In truth, we (meaning the upper and middle classes) would all survive if we didn't get to leave the country this summer. It is too bad we can't say that about the lower classes and their dealings with government."


# posted by Thanatos : 5:56 PM

"The expedited service worked for me at least, last year. I know it's elitist -- Dilan is completely right about the whole topic -- but pay the money and they rush it. Much better than risking a travel/etc. disaster."

Not everyone who needs a passport is going on foreign vacation. Plenty of jobs require foreign travel, and inability to travel can cost you the job.

For what it's worth, most of the people who were in the passport office with me during my problems weren't rich or middle-class, but were recent working-class immigrants trying to get passports for their children, so that they could visit their home countries as a family.

But I suppose they can survive without leaving the country, too, right?


You'll have to ask Dilan and/or Thanatos.

You'll have to ask Dilan and/or Thanatos.

Why? Do you honestly think copying a few disparaging comments about what readers should or should not be interested in is sufficient to control speech?

I applaud Brian's attempt to inform his readers not only about the progress that he made in his personal situation, but about the options available to others that may be in similar straits.

Finally, Charles, you say that we've "already dealt with this issue below," as if it were insane for Brian to post anything more on it, and yet YOU are the one asking him to share that information in other threads. Honestly, I don't get those kinds of reversals. They would seem to serve no rhetorical or adaptive function at all.

Since I am neither Dilan nor Thanatos, I cannot respond for them as to your question: "I suppose they can survive without leaving the country, too, right?" I'm not sure what you are not understanding about that, PMS_Chicago.

My advice: have two passports. From two countries. Most US residents have forbears from a country with which the US has a treaty that allows dual citizenship. If for no other reason than to forestall this sort of misery, the hoops through which you'll have to jump for your UK or Israeli or whichever passport are entirely worthwhile.

Plus, it'll be easier for you to flee the country when George W. commutes the 22nd amendment and declares martial law.

I hear Belize is nice this time of year.

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