TRENTON – In response to the backlog of passport applications – which exceeds 2 million nationally, including more than 400,000 that hadn’t even been opened yet as of the last update – a New Jersey congressman is asking that all current passports get extended.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-Hamilton, said the last word from the State Department was that there were 1.75 million applications pending adjudication and 413,000 in lockboxes awaiting processing. In response, he has proposed legislation that would temporarily extend existing passports.

“My bill would extend on an emergency basis, because of COVID, it would tell the secretary of state to establish a procedure to permit individuals who wish to use their passports that expired any time during COVID to be extended through July 31, 2022,” Smith said. “So, it’s extended for a year.”

The federal government is allowing people who are overseas and whose passports expired in 2020 or 2021 to use their documents to re-enter the United States – but they can’t be used to travel between other countries.

Smith said the backup happened because employees couldn’t process applications while working from home – but that 95% of them are now back in the office. But wait times are approaching 18 weeks, as the understaffed offices collide with pent-up demand for travel.

But with so many people seeking to travel after a year mostly at home, it’s created an unprecedented logjam.

Smith said his office has received almost 600 cases from constituents seeking help with passport problems – a number of them that were nail-biters.

“One of them was a bride who was the only one who didn’t have her passport for a destination wedding,” Smith said. “Can’t have a wedding without the bride.”

Smith’s office intervenes when it can and has had success, but he said “it shouldn’t have to be that way.”

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The legislation is a bipartisan bill Smith introduced with Rep. Albio Sires, D-West New York. It has added four more co-sponsors – three Democrats and Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-Cape May Court House.

“I’m very optimistic that we’re going to get movement on the bill and most importantly a resolution to this,” Smith said.

The House of Representatives, however, just began a district work period and isn’t due back in session in Washington until Sept. 20, although committee work begins again Aug. 31.

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

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