Canadians bitten by tourist bug, but squeezed delays at the passport office

Long queues are an evil but necessary part of any magical journey to Disney World, but Michelle Irving didn’t expect the longest queue she would encounter during her upcoming vacation to be at the passport office.

The Ottawa mother-of-two has been looking forward to this trip for months, the first in her family since the start of the pandemic.

When she realized that her 23-year-old son’s passport had expired, she decided she had enough time to renew it.

Now, after a two-month wait and nearly six hours at Canada Services, they still don’t have his travel documents.

“Now they’ll make me stand in line for God knows how long,” said Irving, who has no choice but to wait at the passport office for hours with her son if they hope to get a passport before they travel.

With COVID-19 restrictions largely lifted, Canadians like Irving seem eager to travel to distant shores for the first time since the start of the pandemic, but passport delays are keeping some on a short leash.

Service Canada reports that there has been a significant increase in demand for passport renewals, which has resulted in long queues and longer waiting times for documents.

The federal agency aims to process passports within 20 business days for attachments sent through the mail, but now the wait is averaging 26 days.

About 72 percent of applications are processed on time, but some of them take much longer.

“I don’t understand why some people get it after a few weeks or a month and others don’t,” Irving said.

Service Canada says it comes down to a huge increase in demand.

According to the airline’s quarterly earnings report, Air Canada’s sales rose sharply in March as travel restrictions were lifted, bringing bookings up to 90% from 2019 levels.

Meanwhile, Service Canada processed almost 1.3 million passports between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022, a sharp increase from the roughly 360,000 passports processed in the previous fiscal year.

Passport-related calls to the government have also risen from 500 a day before the pandemic to more than 200,000 a day.

“The Government of Canada acknowledges that Canadians had other thoughts in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and planning to renew their passports was not a priority,” the agency said in a statement.

“However, this decline in passport applications will inevitably lead to a higher-than-usual spike in the later period.”

In preparation for the predictable surge, the agency said it has created a streamlined renewal process that does not require a guarantor or original paperwork. He also set up processing centers throughout the country and hired 500 new agents to process documents.

People who plan to travel within the next month have been queued up and the agency says staff are working overtime and on weekends to get as many travel documents as possible.

However, MPs say they have been inundated with calls from voters asking for help and expressing their displeasure.

“Members of my community and across the country are queuing in the hundreds, waiting for hours to get their new passports,” said Conservative Michelle Rempel Garner.

NDP transport critic Taylor Bahrak said people in his rural British Columbia area can’t even do that as the nearest town is 12 hours away.

“We have been hearing about this from social workers across the country for several months. Of course, in my office in the last two weeks, we have received more requests related to passports than in the whole of last year,” Bahrakh said.

Garner and Bahrach urged the government to do more to support passport offices so travelers can be on the go.

Irving just hopes she does well on the trip.

“It adds stress because we might run out of money for a plane ticket,” she said. “It is not cheap”.

— Laura Osman, The Canadian Press.