Lineups, wait times for passport renewal soar as pandemic restrictions end

Long line-ups and seething frustration at passport offices across B.C., as the system seems unable to handle the huge crush of Canadians hoping to get passports now that they can travel. Aaron McArthur reports.

As COVID-19 restrictions end, lineups and wait times for passport renewals have soared in Canada, the federal government confirms.

Between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021 — roughly the first year of the pandemic — Service Canada said it issued 363,000 passports.

From April 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022, that number more than tripled to over 1.27 million.

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Federal passport service standards are 10 business days for processing if applying in person at a Service Canada Centre Passport Services office, and 20 days if applying at a Service Canada Centre or by mail.

In an emailed statement, Service Canada said the average turnaround time is five days in person at a Passport Service site as of April 11, and 22 days at a Service Canada Centre or by mail.

“Service Canada recognizes that an increase in demand for passport services has resulted in lineups and longer wait times for service, and we understand the concern this may cause for clients,” wrote Employment and Social Development Canada spokesperson Marie Terrien.

“Even with the recent increase in passport applications, Service Canada Centres across the country are working hard to ensure that anyone with travel plans receives a passport prior to their travel date.”

On Tuesday morning, lineups outside the passport renewal sites in Metro Vancouver wound around the walls and sidewalks. Some residents were in line outside as early as 6 a.m. both in Surrey and at Vancouver’s Sinclair Centre.

Sarah French told Global News she had attempted more than once at several offices to make it through the door and has not been able to secure an appointment.

“There’s no organization and no staff,” she said after she was unable to submit her application after hours of waiting in Vancouver on Tuesday. “They need clear concise lines and information. The website doesn’t match the information that commissionaires are giving on-site.”

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Osama Khan said he needs a passport to meet an American investor, has been to the Sinclair Centre with no success for the past two days, and has seen people outside waiting as early as 3 a.m.

“They have 22 booths in there. Only five people are working,” he said. “There’s just this chaotic line and you only get in at a certain time. People with appointments are not travelling for a month or two and they’re in there. If you go to the website you cannot book an appointment until May 17.”

In its statement, Service Canada said its centres must follow safety pandemic safety protocols, including occupancy limitations, so walk-in clients must wait outside rather than in its waiting rooms.

Sarah Goodman, an immigration lawyer at Crease Harman LLP in Victoria, said Service Canada is not meeting its client service standards in the “vast majority of cases.”

“It’s absolutely troubling,” she told Global News. “Passport delays are causing problems for people who need to travel abroad, whether that’s for leisure, to care for a loved one or to tend to legal matters abroad, like settling a loved one’s estate.”

Service Canada, meanwhile, is encouraging Canadians to use its simplified passport renewal process. Anyone with an expired passport that was issued in the last 15 years is eligible, as are Canadians whose passports were stolen, lost or damaged.

No guarantor or original document is required in the simplified renewal process — only two photos, two references, a completed form and the applicable fees.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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