Passport bottleneck creates long lineups for would-be travellers in Greater Vancouver
600 new staff have been hired to deal with the post-pandemic passport surge in applications
An assurance from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the government is taking steps to address the passport processing bottleneck was cold comfort to those waiting outside the downtown Vancouver passport office on Tuesday.
About 100 glum people formed a long line that snaked through the lower floor of the Sinclair Centre on West Hastings Street where the office is located, many of them anxious about getting their passports in time for a flight scheduled to leave in the coming days.
Khurrem Shaehzab brought a collapsible camping chair to the line, knowing he was in for a long day after being turned away in previous attempts.
"This is my third visit here," he said, eight hours into his wait. "I'm travelling to the U.K. with my kid in two days. I need my passport urgently."
Same story for Taylor Toews, who despite having passport documents approved months ago was still missing the hard copy needed to board her Thursday flight to Greece.
"I'm just hoping to get it printed," she said. "There's lots of waiting, no movement and no information [from staff.]
Until May 20, the Vancouver passport office was giving priority service to people with proof of travel within 48 hours.
But according to a Service Canada spokesperson, protocols have now changed after the surge in applications that preceded the Victoria Day long weekend.
"Effective May 24, 2022, the Vancouver Service Canada Centre – Passport Services has reduced the time during the day for appointments which will greatly increase capacity to serve walk-in clients on a first-come, first-serve basis. The office has already seen an immediate positive reduction in the number of clients waiting," said the agency in a statement.
Long lines at passport offices in Greater Vancouver have sparked a cottage industry of people offering to line-sit for a fee of anywhere from $35 per hour to $300 for a spot among the first 10 in the queue.
According to the prime minister, 500 new passport workers have been hired since January to address the national backlog, although Service Canada put the figure at 600. Trudeau said 43,000 passports are now being processed every week.
"Reality is a lot of people went two years without travelling and didn't renew because there was no expectation they'd be travelling because of the pandemic," he said, speaking in Vancouver. "There's a bit of rush now and we're dealing with it as best we can."
Service Canada estimates it received close to half a million passport applications in March and April of this year. It said Canadians should ensure they have a valid passport before making travel commitments.
"Although processing times are currently longer than prior to the pandemic, 85 per cent of Canadians who apply for passports currently receive their passports within 40 business days. Ninety-seven per cent who apply in-person at a specialized passport office, currently receive their passports in under 10 business days," according to the statement.