With multiple news reports in 2016 citing a 2017 launch and then barely a word mentioned, we’re beginning to wonder exactly when the U.S. Department of State will release its “next-generation” passports. Travelers playing a game of chicken and still hanging on to their nearly expired documents want to know: Is the new passport worth the wait?
No, not if it’s going to cause you to miss an international business trip and cost you your job. But for those business travelers who are on the cusp and wondering what to do, here’s what you need to know about the new little (what still will be) blue book to make your own informed decision.
Resistant to fraud and forgery
With threats of identity theft a real concern today, the State Department is taking extra measures to make passports stronger and more secure.
According to an article by U.S. News and World Report, the new passport will have on the bio page a more sophisticated machine-readable chip to thwart thieves from stealing your personal information and identity in case your passport lands in the wrong hands. The chip will be protected by a polycarbonate coating, which also will prevent the document from bending, tearing and getting wet.
The new design — a collaborative effort between the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the Department of Homeland Security — will feature a higher “level of intricacy,” explained Brenda Sprague, deputy assistant secretary for passport services at the Bureau of Consular Affairs.
Since the passport number will be cut through all pages with conical laser perforation, which makes holes that get smaller from front to back, it will be more difficult to tear out or sub in new pages.
Also making this passport nearly impossible to replicate will be its intricate engravings, “tactile features” and “optically variable” inks. Or in lexicon we actually can understand: Some designs on pages will be raised and ink will appear to be different colors, depending on the angle from which it’s viewed.
Don’t wait if yours is expiring
Last year was a record year for processing U.S. passport applications. According to the Department of State’s passport statistics webpage, more than 21 million new little blue books were issued in 2017, up by nearly three million from 2016.
The deluge of applications was expected. Back in 2007, a new law went into effect requiring passports for Americans traveling to Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean, causing a surge in passport requests — and delays — that year. Fortunately, the State Department was more prepared when it came time for all those people to renew last year.
The State Department says it is expecting a high number of applications for 2018 as well, especially if some Americans will need a passport to fly domestically come October due to the REAL ID Act. (And if you’re behind on this story, you can catch up here.)
As we noted in our Atlas report, all states that have not issued REAL IDs — i.e., driver’s licenses that comply with new government standards — have been granted an extension. Residents there can continue flying domestically using their driver’s license until Oct. 10, 2018. At that time, however, residents in states that are still not compliant by then may have to use a passport or alternate form of TSA-approved ID to board a domestic flight.
According to the government website, it takes four to six weeks to process a passport for a routine service. So if your passport is set to expire this year, we recommend submitting your application ASAP — especially if traveling to a country that requires six-month validity — and getting the next-generation passport the next time around. (What will that be in 10 years’ time? The next-next-generation passport? Or perhaps by then, it’ll be replaced with a microchip embedded in our hand, as some predict.)
Online — not in line
Fingers crossed, starting mid-2018, you won’t have to stand in line at the post office to have your passport renewed. As the State Department works on moving from a paper to digital system, it is developing a new platform that will let you renew your passport online. Carl Siegmund, community relations officer for passport services, said at a symposium in May 2017 in Washington D.C., that the new system should be up and running later in 2018.
The other cool thing Siegmund mentioned is that status updates about how far along a passport is in the application or renewal process will come by text. Currently, if you want to check on the status, you have to pull the update from the State Department’s website or call the passport services center. At some point in 2018, those updates should come via email or text.
Now if only they could send us a text updating us when these darn next-generation passports are coming out …
Either way, we’ll be on high alert and update you as soon as they do.