Long lines to renew passports frustrate applicants in Vancouver

People online complain about getting conflicting information from officials in person from online information

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After queuing outside the Richmond passport office for 3.5 hours on Friday, Stanley Kwok was among several dozen applicants learning for the first time that unless his application was urgent he would not be served.

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“We’ve been here since 10:30 a.m. and only now learn that unless our flight is within the next three days, we won’t be going inside,” said Kwok, who was looking to replace a lost passport. for a summer. travel.

A flurry of passport applications after Ottawa eased border restrictions and COVID-19 testing requirements has led to lines outside Service Canada offices across Canada, including passport offices from Vancouver and Richmond.

Those queuing at lunchtime in Richmond were frustrated and confused, saying they were given different instructions online than in person.

“I was told that if you needed a renewal between three and 25 days, you could come in person,” said Jasmin Calvelo, who was trying to renew her daughter’s passport so she could travel for a family reunion in the Philippines on June 2.

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But the security guard around 2 p.m. told those waiting that they probably wouldn’t be able to submit their applications that day because the office was processing them at the rate of five an hour and there were more than two dozen people there. with dates waiting for them to turn inside.

“What is happening?” said a frustrated Calvelo, who said she covered less than 10 meters in 4.5 hours. “Why were you giving us false hope” on the site?

Service Canada on its website states, “Appointments are recommended as walk-in service is only offered where capacity permits.”

Calvelo said she couldn’t get an appointment until May 20 and was worried she’d leave him too late for her June 2 trip. And Kwok said he came in person as he was unable to book an appointment online as there were no slots available.

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And despite long queues, applicants said they were frustrated to see only a handful of staffed counters.

Over the past year, Service Canada issued 1.3 million passports, more than triple the 363,000 issued the previous year, federal spokeswoman Natalie Huneault said in an email.

And there have been 500,000 applications in the past seven weeks, she said. Ottawa also receives 200,000 phone calls a day about passports, up from 5,000 calls a day in 2019, she said.

Increased demand has led to longer lineups and wait times, but staff are limited at Service Canada Centers and specialized passport offices due to federal pandemic mandates, a said Huneault.

Applications are prioritized for those who need a passport within two business days with proof of travel only at Service Canada Centers’ specialized passport sites. Those traveling between three and 25 days are asked to submit their application to a regular Service Canada Centre.

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And there is a “simplified renewal process” to speed up some renewals and lost passports, meaning some applicants no longer need a guarantor or original identity documents, she said.

Ottawa opened processing centers across the country, hired 500 staff to expedite processing and said staff were working overtime, she said.

She said the average wait time for passport processing is between five and 20 days.

There were also queues at Service Canada Centers that do not offer passport renewals, such as the one on Broadway in Vancouver.

International student Kai Sawamoto had waited three hours and counted on Friday, after being turned away on Thursday, to get a social insurance number, which he needed to secure an internship at Amazon before heading to Japan next week.

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