PARAMUS – There’s a backlog approaching 2 million passport applications nationally, which has a North Jersey congressman pushing the State Department to respond quickly so that international vacations and other trips stop having to be canceled.

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-Wyckoff, held a Monday news conference outside the Paramus Public Library to advocate for the federal government to expand opportunities for in-person renewals. The current wait time is about twice as long the usual 8 to 10 weeks, or 4 to 6 weeks if people pay $60 to have their application expedited.

“Right now, though, for hundreds of local residents and families and millions of Americans across the nation, there’s a massive delay of up to 18 weeks or more. That’s more than four months to apply for or renew a passport,” Gottheimer said.

“This isn’t just disrupting travel plans but hurting families in their pocketbooks when international plans have to be suddenly cancelled, with steep fees and penalties,” he said. “And of course it’s damaging the travel industry and our economic recovery that’s had a rough enough year and a half.”

The backlog is the result of the pandemic, which left offices with smaller in-person staffs than usual. Vaccinations have recently fueled a return to vacation travel.

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The State Department said last week that it was “surging” staffing levels at its consular offices and will have over 150 staff returning to 22 agencies across the country this summer. Gottheimer said it must do more to get offices back to full staffing and then add surge staffing on top of that to ease the backlog.

“So many folks don’t know about the delay, so they are rightly surprised when suddenly their vacation is approaching fast and furiously, and there’s no word about their passport,” he said.

Gottheimer said passport issues are currently the leading inquiry from constituents in his office. He said people are traveling across state lines to seek passports, such as up into New England, but that there are no appointments available for next three weeks.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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