Service Canada warns of long wait times due to ‘unprecedented surge’ in passport applications

The federal government is warning that a massive surge in the number of Canadians applying for passports is causing long wait times at Service Canada locations across the country.

The demand for passports is said to be driven by the fact that many Canadians put off international travel for much of the pandemic.

With pandemic restrictions being eased in Canada and around the world, Canadians looking to travel have been turning up in massive numbers at passport offices.

The government says it is receiving more than 200,000 calls per day for passport requests at Service Canada.

That’s about 40 times more calls than Service Canada typically received prior to the pandemic, when the agency handled about 5,000 passport requests daily.

“This unprecedented surge in demand has resulted in appointments filling up quickly,” said a statement from Employment and Social Development Canada, which operates Service Canada locations.

“The Government of Canada recognizes that during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians had other things on their minds and planning to renew their passports was not a priority. However, this decrease in passport applications would by necessity result in a higher-than-normal surge at a later date.”

People stand in long lineups at a passport office in downtown Vancouver on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Figures provided to CBC News show that requests for passports cratered during the first year of the pandemic.

From April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021, Service Canada issued 363,000 passports. 

A year later — between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022 — the agency issued 1,273,000 passports.

Service Canada also points to ongoing health and safety restrictions, which limit the number of staff allowed to work at a given location, as a factor in long wait times.

Ottawa credits simplified renewal process

While long lines have become a fixture at Service Canada locations, the people who manage to submit their applications are still receiving their passports within typical processing times.

Ottawa says the turnaround time for people applying at one of Service Canada’s 35 specialized passport sites is five business days. The government’s “service standard” for those locations is 10 business days.

People applying at other Service Canada locations, or through the mail, are waiting an average of 25 business days to have their applications processed — slightly higher than that standard of 20 business days.

The government credits its introduction of a simplified passport renewal process with keeping processing times under control during the wave of new applications.

But some people applying for passports have told CBC News about days-long wait times. One family in Greater Vancouver reported making five unsuccessful attempts to submit an application at various locations around the city.

Under the updated guidelines, applicants are no longer required to have a guarantor or to provide original documents, such as proof of citizenship.

Any expired passport issued within the last 15 years can be renewed with fewer documents, which include two photos, two references, a completed application form and fees.

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