US passport woes
August 1, 2013 4:25 PM   Subscribe

Despite my best efforts I am running out of time to get my passport processed before travel at the end of this month (Aug 25). After run-ins with with multiple confused passport acceptance agents and many phone calls I am afraid this is an unknown-unknowns situation and I need help! Kafkaesque (ok maybe not quite) bureaucracy within:

I applied for an expedited passport (as I also need to apply for a visa) on July first in Chicago, and got an email July 19th stating that the passport agent did not properly identify the facility or sign the application, that I needed to reapply using some paperwork they were mailing me but that they are keeping my birth certificate on file. I went to the downtown passport office (not the main one. it was closed. Apparently all of Chicago's passport acceptance facilities are mysteriously closed down at the moment, I had to try 3 different places back on july first as well.) The agent at the new place was very nice but extremely puzzled by my exciting paperwork, and had to make 3 separate phone calls before processing and mailing it. Today I got another email saying the application was not signed when I appeared before the acceptance agent (?), and they want me to send a third application.
My questions are: is this normal, or am I just horribly unlucky with passport processing? And any advice on what to do next? I have called the helpline multiple times, and I have an appointment at the same-day processing center (not till august 8th, though, which is cutting things way too close and they may charge me a second enormous fee. I can't just wait in line all day on account of my work situation). I am clearly terrible at this, and any advice at all will be much appreciated.
posted by velebita to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total)
Best answer: is this normal, or am I just horribly unlucky with passport processing?

No, this is not normal. Yes, you seem to be having a very unlucky run in obtaining your passport.

And any advice on what to do next?

1. Verify the email, make sure you are not being phished.
2. Call the Department of State National Passport Information Center directly at 1-877-487-2778. They should be able verify what you need to do next.
3. Upon verification, follow the instructions that are given to you, be it in the verified email or by the subsequent email delivered to you by the person you speak to at the Department of State.

4. You will very likely have to find yet another acceptance facility. I recommend one that is not located inside a Post Office.

Passport Acceptance Agents are used to routine (ask me how I know) and when presented with an oddball situation like yours might have to step out of the room and/or make a few phone calls. What helps immensely is having a paper copy of the verified communication from the Department of State on hand during your appointment. It should contain both instructions to you as well as instructions to the Acceptance Agent that will (hopefully) clarify the payment and paperwork situation.

Feel free to request the Agent sign and stamp the document in front of you, after you've sworn your oath (again).

I'm sorry you're going through this. You still have plenty of time to get your Passport for your trip, and some further recourse should time become shorter before long. Please feel free to email me at my email address if you'd like to discuss your situation in private. While I cannot help you directly in obtaining your US Passport, hopefully I can provide you with some direction.
posted by carsonb at 4:34 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: After a similar experience, I had good luck showing up in person, without an appointment, at the New York passport agency (the main, central, maximum location) with proof of travel within one week. I was very reluctant to leave work, too, but I think I was out of there by 1 pm.

(In theory, one could buy a REFUNDABLE international ticket and then get it refunded.)

I returned in 2 or 3 days to get the passport (no line at all).

August 8th is not, in fact, too close to your trip on the 25th. Hang in there.

In future I would advise not dealing with anyone but the main passport office itself.
posted by skbw at 4:39 PM on August 1, 2013

I've had a somewhat similar passport crisis, and made an appointment and got my passport very quickly from the San Francisco passport agency. There's only like 20 regional passport agencies in the US, but one of them is in Chicago. I did have to go there in person, with the photos, but turnaround time was great (I don't remember if I got it that day, or the next day, but it was definitely with plenty of time).

I believe you can't even make an appointment this way unless your trip is within two weeks (or four weeks if you need to apply for a visa). So the 25th is plenty of time.
posted by aubilenon at 4:44 PM on August 1, 2013

Actually, since you are traveling within 4 weeks and need to obtain a visa, call the number I listed above and schedule an appointment at the Chicago Passport Agency.
Appointments Available From

8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Monday through Wednesday, Friday
10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Excluding Federal Holidays


Kluczynski Federal Building
230 S. Dearborn Street, 18th Floor
Chicago, IL 60604-1564
Depending on the office, this may be sort of onerous. You also have the option of hiring an "expediter" or same-day type service to visit the office for you. If you do that, you will still have to appear in front of an Acceptance Agent.

I recommend setting an appointment at the Chicago Passport Agency ASAP. Be clear that you need to obtain a visa, because they may balk at first that your travel date is outside the usual 2-week 'emergency' limit.
posted by carsonb at 4:46 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you've paid, you should not have to pay again at the regional passport agency. Bring every piece of paper you have relating to this and another set of pictures with you. I got mine the same day I appeared back in 2007 at the Kluczynski Federal Building. It was a day of waiting in lines and being threatened with removal if I ate or drank anything or used my cell phone after leaving the waiting area. Once I was done at the window, I had to go back a few hours later and wait some more to pick it up.
posted by soelo at 4:50 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just a quick clarification: I've been on the phone with the national passport center about every other day, as of today they have just said they are putting alerts on the application to try to figure it out, but it seems to take about 3 days for any information to travel between them and the actual passport office. I also have an appointment at the Kluczynski center, but not till the 8th (and I do need a visa so I'm getting really worried about the processing time). I'm also worried because I've had so much trouble already, and the piles of paperwork seem to make things worse.
posted by velebita at 4:54 PM on August 1, 2013

Best answer: Since you have an appointment on the 8th already, work on getting your visa ducks in a row and go over the documents you're bringing to the Kluczynski office.

The only other thing you could be doing at this point to further your situation is pay money to make it go quicker, but you'd still have to have your paperwork in order and appear in front of another Acceptance Agent. I recommend against that route at this point. Go to your appointment, be as ready as possible.
posted by carsonb at 5:01 PM on August 1, 2013

soelo is correct that the $170 you paid with your original expedited application should still count. The State Department won't charge you again.
posted by carsonb at 5:03 PM on August 1, 2013

Best answer: If you are in need of a visa and Aug 8 is too late for your comfort, I'd go to the main Passport Agency office tomorrow or Monday and just show up first thing in the AM. I've done last minute same day or next day passports at the Passport Agency office in San Francisco 3 times and never with an appointment. You just have to wait in line longer. Have ALL of your paperwork and extra pics with you, even things you won't think you'll need. Make sure you have documentation of the visa processing time requirements so that your passport pick-up date isn't based on your plane ticket departure date.

In one very complicated situation concerning my husband (far more complicated than paperwork errors), I had to contact my Congressional Representative for help. Her office was shockingly fast and effective at getting the last hoops taken care of. Don't hesitate to use that route if your visit to the Passport Agency office doesn't resolve the open issues. Good luck!
posted by quince at 5:07 PM on August 1, 2013

Best answer: Back in 2000 or so, my congressman's constituent services hotline was able to rapidly unfuck a months-old passport problem for me (thank you Bob Barr). It's definitely worth a shot.
posted by deadmessenger at 5:19 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Call your Representative's Constituent Services line and ask them how to get this fixed. They can cut through red tape and get you your passport.
posted by dfriedman at 6:26 PM on August 1, 2013

I also have an appointment at the Kluczynski center, but not till the 8th (and I do need a visa so I'm getting really worried about the processing time).

You should be able to have a passport in hand on the 8th or the 9th. (Some years ago, I got a passport the same day in Chicago. The application was done at like 10am and it was ready sometime in the afternoon. I imagine a later appointment might mean getting it the next morning.)

(I'm not sure about the people saying go without an appointment. The appointment system is relatively recent. Turning up first thing in the morning used to be your only option, but I'm not sure you can get in the door without an appointment now. The website says only by appointment.)
posted by hoyland at 6:43 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

hoyland, you have a point--there may be some places that don't let you in without an appointment. My walk-in was in NYC in 2011. I think the websites ALL say appointment only. I found out about "go early, you will get in" on a contemporary NYC passport message thread. There is one line for appointment and one line for no appointment. YMMV.

OP, I feel your pain, but I personally feel like you haven't done your due diligence until you show up in person at the main passport office. Explain the visa situation to THEM and see how fast you get the passport. Then call the Congressperson, the afternoon you come back from the main office, to see about the visa time crunch.
posted by skbw at 7:45 PM on August 1, 2013

No help with your situation, but a thought about the passport centers closing. Apparently, the State Department has issued some new regulations about passport personell being restricted from any other documents, such as birth certificates. There was an article in a MN newspaper about it a couple of weeks ago:
posted by Ickster at 9:44 PM on August 1, 2013

That article is funny considering the problem with finding an acceptance agent in my neck of the woods is due to Post Office personnel shortages and budget cuts.
posted by carsonb at 9:50 PM on August 1, 2013

Response by poster: Passport in hand as of this afternoon, thanks to the very helpful office staff of Senator Dick Durbin, and the stellar advice and comforting words from everyone here. Thanks! I will never take my passport application to a post office again.
posted by velebita at 10:40 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Awesome! Enjoy your trip.
posted by skbw at 7:31 AM on August 8, 2013

« Older Working around pump jack braces   |   How do I tell my mom I'm getting married? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.