Remember that huge backlog of passport requests the State Department faced just a year ago?
No more. The recession has slowed foreign travel dramatically, cutting wait times for passports by a quarter, the LA Times reports.
The agency had budgeted to handle 17 million passports a year. Now it says 12 million will be the more likely number.
As a result, State is laying off contract workers in droves, right into the teeth of the same recession. No cuts to full-timers are in the works, officials told the newspaper.
The U.S. airline industry is projected to carry 41 million fewer passengers in 2009, a decline that will continue through 2010, according to Boyd Group International. U.S. passenger levels may not again reach 2008 levels until after 2014.
Despite the slowdown, another kink is in the works: Starting June 1, the millions who cross in and out of the United States by car and on foot will need to have a passport; a new, cheaper mini-passport in card form; or a similar, high-security ID to cross the Mexican and Canadian borders. Tens of thousands of cruisers need them, too.
Fliers already must show a passport or its equivalent.
The vehicle and pedestrian rule was supposed to be in effect already, but it was pushed back to June 1 as State fell behind in processing. Officials cannot discount another mad rush as the new, delayed deadline approaches.
"We really don't know . . . the extent to which [travelers] may decide on May 1 or June 1, 'Hey, I'm not properly documented,' " Sprague told the Times.
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