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Passport delays: Minister says backlog ‘virtually eliminated’

Canada’s passport application backlog has been “virtually eliminated,” the minister responsible announced Tuesday.

After months of delays, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Karina Gould said that the federal government moved “heaven and earth” in the last year to fix the system and speed up processing times. Now, wait times for Canadians to receive their passports are back to pre-pandemic standards.

“Approximately 98 per cent of the backlog of applications have been processed, the backlog is virtually eliminated,” Gould told reporters during a federal cabinet retreat in Hamilton, Ont.

This comes, Gould said, as a result of increasing passport offices’ “processing capacity” and “streamlined operations” by nearly doubling its workforce and racking up thousands of hours of overtime.

As Canada’s COVID-19 travel restrictions eased, the country saw a travel surge and an influx in demand for new passports. As a result, months-long passport processing delays led to canceled plans and travel headaches for some, while others found themselves camping out in long lineups at Service Canada offices this summer as they tried to beat the rush in applying for, renewing, or picking up the key piece of travel documentation.

The delays led to criticism and questioning of the federal government’s ability to deliver services to Canadians.

On Tuesday, Gould said that as the process stands, those who submitted their passport applications after Oct. 3, 2022, have seen pre-pandemic processing times, while extra staff continues to tackle the smaller number of outstanding “complex” applications left over from the months prior due to issues such as eligibility, security, or child custody.

For those who applied before Oct. 3, the wait time to receive their passport still varies, but clients can now have their application expedited without having to show proof of imminent travel.

“Canadians can have confidence that they should be able to get their passport on time, as long as everything is correct with their application,” Gould said Tuesday, after apologizing once again for the “difficult situation,” and thanking Canadians for their “admirable patience.”

Gould said going forward, ESDC will retain the extra staff it brought on to tackle the surge in applications “for the foreseeable future,” because she expects the number of applicants will remain high, with the government expecting to process more than 3.5 million passports this year. For example, the first passports issued with a 10-year expiry date will be up for renewal in July.

“We know that we need to have this increased capacity based on kind of those natural cycles of when passport applications are made,” said the minister. “What we’re anticipating particularly for this summer is a higher level of renewals, and those are much simpler to do.”

Because the passport program is largely funded by Canadians’ passport fees, the increased staffing to keep up with demand isn’t amounting to much of a bill for the federal government, Gould said.

While the system seems to be back up to speed, noting that there will continue to be “seasonal peaks” that result in lineups at passport offices, Gould is encouraging Canadians to ensure their passports are still valid ahead of upcoming travel, and if not, ensure they submit their applications early to avoid any issues.

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