Delays plague passport office
It takes at least six weeks to get document by mail, two weeks longer than benchmark
The Canadian Press
October 29, 2007 at 5:42 AM EDT
OTTAWA — Passport Canada is reporting continued long delays in processing mailed-in passport applications, despite a streamlined renewal process and hundreds of new employees.
And there is concern those delays will only get longer as the busy winter travel season approaches.
Officials blame a glut of new applicants for the delays, as demand for the documents continues to soar.
It now takes a minimum of six weeks to get a passport through the mail; two weeks longer than the agency's benchmark of four weeks.
And that doesn't include the time it takes to get applications and documents through Canada Post.
Passport Canada spokesman Fabien Lengelle said many more people have applied for passports in the past six months than applied within the same period last year.
"The reason we have delays is that we have a very, very high demand," Mr. Lengelle said.
In October, 2006, Passport Canada was issuing about 13,000 passports a day. By late last spring, that number had reached 21,000.
Since the start of April, the beginning of the fiscal year, the agency has issued 2.2 million passports, a 42-per-cent increase from the same period in 2006-2007 when just 1.5 million were issued.
In June, then-foreign affairs minister Peter MacKay announced measures to speed up the processing of passport applications, including a simplified renewal process.
At the time, there was a backlog of roughly 170,000 applications.
Since then, Passport Canada has hired nearly 700 new employees, raising the number of passport officers and clerks to the equivalent of more than 2,600 full-time personnel.
Agency officials won't divulge the size of the current backlog, arguing that the number fluctuates from day to day.
"[Backlog] is not a very accurate measure," Mr. Lengelle said. "Demand is the true driver here."
The new renewal process, which came into effect Aug. 15, allows Canadians to renew their passports without getting guarantors, as long as their current passport is less than a year from expiry and has never been lost or stolen.
Traditionally, the busiest time of year for Passport Canada is the period from Nov. 1 through the end of March.
The agency is preparing for a further upswing in demand, but acknowledges delays could lengthen. "It all depends on demand," Mr. Lengelle said. "If demand goes above capacity, then we will have [further] delays," he added.
"Passport Canada is doing everything it can to raise its capacity to a level where we will be able to meet demand over the coming months."
The agency has been able to maintain a two-week timetable for processing applications delivered in person at passport offices.
As well, Canadians who can apply in person, are willing to pay more and who can prove they will be travelling sooner, can get a passport within 24 hours on an urgent basis, or through Passport Canada's "express" service.
But that doesn't help the thousands of Canadians who have no choice but to use the mail system to obtain travel documents.
Demand for passports has increased dramatically since the United States imposed rules requiring them for air travellers. Similar rules are expected to be in place as early as next summer for land travel across the U.S. border.
In the United States, demand also peaked earlier this year from Americans seeking passports, causing significant disruptions to some people's summer travel plans.
But the State Department announced last month it had worked through a massive backlog of passport applications and that its processing times were back to normal after months of major delays.
However, the normal waiting period for a standard passport application in the United States is six to eight weeks - three weeks for expedited service. U.S. officials deal with 17 million passport applications annually.