Photo by The North Platte Bulletin
For many Nebraskans, summer means a long-awaited vacation. If you will be leaving the country, your passport should be your first priority.Throughout my time in office, my caseworkers have handled hundreds of passport situations on behalf of Nebraskans. I would venture to say we’ve had the opportunity to help out with nearly every scenario in the book. The best advice is to make sure to get your passport when you do not yet need it. It is a much bigger challenge to deal with the federal bureaucracy at the last minute.
The current “passport surge” has the State Department encouraging travelers to submit their applications as soon as possible. The surge is due to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), implemented in 2007 to require all citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda to present a passport or other form of valid identification upon entering or leaving the U.S. Ten years later, millions of passports issued as a result of WHTI are expiring.
The State Department estimates 48 million passports will expire between Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 and FY 2019, compared to 31 million in the past three years. In FY 2016, the State Department received 16.8 million passport applications. The agency is anticipating it will receive at least 21.1 million applications by the end of FY 2017, and another 20.6 million applications in FY 2018.
To avoid travel headaches, check your passport expiration date frequently – ideally before planning any international trips. Passports issued to applicants age 16 or older are valid for 10 years. Applicants under age 16 are issued passports valid for five years.
Many countries require passports to be valid for at least six months beyond the dates of travel, so renewing earlier is better. My office has heard from many travelers who arrived at the airport only to be told they could not board their flights because their passports were too close to the expiration date.
If you realize you will need your passport sooner than 6-8 weeks from the time of applying, the State Department recommends expediting your application for an additional fee. Information about processing times and fees can be found on the State Department’s website at State.gov/Travel. There are also many useful resources for travelers on the website, from passport guidance to preparation trips to travel warnings.
For those with emergency travel needs, the State Department is available to help. If you experience a serious illness, injury, or death in your immediate family and need to travel within 72 hours, you can contact the National Passport Information Center (NPIC) at 877-487-2778 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Eastern time. After business hours, NPIC officers can be reached for emergencies at 202-647-4000.
My congressional caseworkers also have significant experience helping Nebraskans with passport challenges and are happy to look into a situation to see how they might be able to assist. Please contact my Grand Island office at 308-384-3900 to speak with a caseworker.
To everyone in the Third District, I hope you have a safe and memorable remainder of the summer season wherever you choose to enjoy it.