More Office Openings, Staff, Streamlined Process: Ottawa Tackles Half-Million Passport Applications

On 17MAY, the Canadian government announced new measures designed to clear up the backlog for passport renewals and applications.

Service Canada, the office which processes passport applications, notes that its ability to serve Canadians was affected by the "unprecedented volume" of applications as travel re-opened, as well as its requirement to impose in-person capacity limits for both clients and staff inside Service Canada Centres.

In MAR and APR 2022, Service Canada received approximately 500,000 applications for passports, and says it is "prioritizing those with more imminent travel."

And the lineups for new passports just keep growing. Open Jaw has reported that, some entrepreneurial Canadians are even offering to hold a spot in line for cash, with ads posted on online marketplaces such as Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace.

New Measures

As part of the new measures designed to address the backlog, Service Canada is reopening all of its passport service counters across the country. The office notes that this move will see a 40 per cent increase in capacity at service counters, while capacity limits in waiting rooms have also been " significantly expanded."

Further, Service Canada says it has hired 600 new employees specifically to support the processing of passport applications, opened more dedicated passport intake counters in over 300 Service Canada Centres, opened additional processing hubs, and created a "new workload management and processing technology" intended to increase efficiency.

Service Canada notes it continues to hire and train more employees, while its teams at the passport office, processing and call centres are "working overtime every day and on weekends to increase processing capacity." This includes opening select Service Canada Centres on Saturdays for passport service.

"Plan Ahead and Apply Early" - And In-Person

"Our teams are currently responding to a significant surge in demand for passports, working hard to maintain our service standards and get Canadians the documents they need to travel. We thank Canadians for their patience during this time, and continue to encourage them to plan ahead and apply early if they need passport services," said Lori MacDonald, Senior Associate Deputy Minister of Employment and Social Development and Chief Operating Officer for Service Canada.

According to Service Canada, a simplified renewal process now allows applicants to renew an expired passport if it was issued in the last 15 years. The simplified process is also available to those who had their passport lost, stolen or damaged. Applicants do not need to have a guarantor or provide their original documents, such as proof of citizenship or photo identification. They simply need two photos, two references, their completed form and the applicable fees.

"These changes make renewing a passport easier and faster, while maintaining the highest level of program integrity," Service Canada said.

The office also launched a new an online appointment-booking tool that applicants can access at any time to book their appointment online. The tool also directs them to the right location to submit their passport applications.

Service Canada further recognizes that some circumstances cannot wait for an appointment:

  • Anyone who needs a passport within two business days must visit one of the specialized passport sites (Service Canada Centres – Passport Service) offering urgent pick-up service. Proof of travel is required.
  • Those travelling within 25 business days can use the walk-in service at one of the 35 specialized passport sites (Service Canada Centres – Passport Service). Appointments are recommended, and proof of travel is required. Service Canada notes that wait times at these sites may be long due to the current demand.
  • For anyone travelling in more than 25 days (or with no specific travel date), over 300 Service Canada Centres are available to receive passport applications in person. No proof of travel is needed. These applicants also have the option to mail in their applications.

Service Canada further notes that while processing times are currently longer than prior to the pandemic, "98% of Canadians who apply in-person at a specialized passport office currently receive their passports in less than 10 business days."

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