The number of people applying for and renewing passports is up this year across the nation and in the region.
Reasons for the increase vary from immigration concerns, to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, to the federal Real ID law.
Driving the growth for some in Pennsylvania is the 2005 Department of Homeland Security Real ID law, which required states to change driver’s licenses to prevent counterfeiting.
Now, Pennsylvanians are headed for an identification problem. Effective Jan. 22, 2018, their nonconforming driver’s licenses will no longer be accepted by security screening at airports.
The licenses won’t be an acceptable form of ID to enter federal buildings, military bases or nuclear power plants after June 6.
While state legislators are hoping to bring Pennsylvania into compliance prior to the deadlines, many residents aren’t taking any chances and are applying for passports to prove their identity.
David Rohlsing, with Bucks County’s prothonotary’s office, said a lot of people applying told him they wouldn’t be getting a passport if they weren’t concerned about their driver’s licenses.
The number of people applying for a passport in Bucks is up about 10 percent, compared to this time last year, said Rohlsing. In 2016, there were 9,184 applications. In the first three months of this year, there have been 3,412.
Rohlsing also said the economy plays a role in the number of passport applications.
“There was a definite downswing in 2008-2009 … but as the economy improves, more people travel. The numbers have been slowly increasing since 2015.”
In Montgomery County, applications are also on the rise, said Anne Venezia, passport clerk in the prothonotary’s office.
But, rather than those with driver’s license concerns, Venezia said she’s seeing more immigrant families applying.
“Since the election, you feel they’re rushing to get their kids’ passports,” the clerk said.
At the federal level, citizens are being urged to plan ahead and apply for or renew passports early to avoid an expected “passport surge.”
According to the State Department, approximately 48 million passports will expire between 2017 and 2019. The Philadelphia Passport Agency alone anticipates at least 21.1 million passport applications this year and 20.6 million next year, which includes both renewals and new applications.
Part of the reason for the predicted flood of renewals is the 2007 Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative that required a passport to travel to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda. Ten years later, those passports are expiring.
“Passport processing times are expected to go up for routine processing this year. By renewing early, travelers can avoid logistical difficulties since many foreign countries require passports to have at least six months of validity,” said Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, R-8, of Middletown, in a statement. His district includes Bucks County and part of Montgomery County.
Source: The Intelligencer