Leader Blues

Friday, June 15, 2007

TOP STORY >>Getting new passports taking 12 to 14 weeks

IN SHORT: Express service takes half the time as applications drop in Jacksonville and Cabot, but not in NLR.

By JEFFREY SMITH
Leader staff writer

Fewer travelers from Cabot and Jacksonville are seeking passports at local post offices after months of heavy demand. But the North Little Rock Post Office reports an increase in passport applications.

A Cabot postal em-ployee said, “We are averaging between four and six completed passport applications a day. Passport processing times are running four to six weeks for express service and 12 to 14 weeks for regular.”

The Jacksonville Post Office reports about six applications a day.
Cabot started taking passport application last November. At first, there were about six to eight applications a week.
That number more than doubled for a while, according to a postal official there. “I believe the rush is over in Cabot,” he said.
Most of the applications were for cruises, he added.

Congress voted this week to postpone passports for 17 months for travel to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean.
Applicants can return forms and have their photos taken at the Jacksonville, Cabot, North Little Rock, and Searcy post offices, William F. Laman Public Library in North Little Rock, or the White County Circuit Court clerk’s office.

Local post offices don’t handle or process passports but pass them on to passport centers that print and mail them to applicants.

A new center in Hot Springs should speed up the process for those eager to travel this summer.Passports costs $97 for those 16 years or older and $82 for those under 16, with regular delivery service taking 10 to 12 weeks for processing. Expedited service is $189.50 for 16 years or older, and $174.50 for those younger and takes two to three weeks for processing.

The Arkansas Passport Center had a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday in Hot Springs with Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Maura Harty and Gov. Mike Beebe attending.

The processing center opened on March 27 and has produced 130,000 passports to date. The center is not a regional passport agency but receives passport applications across the U.S.

For those traveling within two weeks needing a passport, they should schedule an appointment with the Regional Passport Agency at 877-487-2778.

The closest offices are in New Orleans and Houston. There is no charge to make an appointment.
The backlog is a result of the Western Hemisphere travel initiative passed by Congress as part of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 to strengthen border security and facilitate entry into the United States for citizens and legitimate international visitors.  

WHTI requirements for air travel took effect on Jan. 23. 

According to the www.travel.state.gov Website, “The U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security, an-nounced June 8, that U.S. citizens traveling to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda who have applied for but not yet received passports can nevertheless temporarily enter and depart from the United States by air with a government issued photo identification and Department of State official proof of application for a passport through Sept. 30. 

“The federal government is making this accommodation for air travel due to longer-than-expected processing times for passport applications in the face of record-breaking demand.”

The State Department is refunding the $60 for expedited passports for those who have reason to believe that they did not receive expedited service.

They should contact the Department of State at Department of State Passport Services/PPS/Refunds, 2100 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20037-3202. It is a case-by-case basis.

Information about passport status can be found by calling the National Passport Information Center at 877-487-2778, 6 a.m. to midnight Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, except on federal holidays.

Expect delays and repeated calling attempts before speaking with a representative.

Another way to check is on-line at www.travel.state.gov.
E-mail responses may take two to four days.