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Government bracing for surge in passport renewals

OTTAWA — Pierce Schoel thought he might be able to avoid a long wait at the passport office in Kitchener, Ont. by going in the middle of the day. He was surprised to discover lineups out the door.
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OTTAWA — Pierce Schoel thought he might be able to avoid a long wait at the passport office in Kitchener, Ont. by going in the middle of the day. 

He was surprised to discover lineups out the door. The security guard told people they'd likely be waiting two, even three hours. But with a long-awaited trip to Mexico on the horizon — his first overseas trip since the pandemic began — he stuck it out. 

"I've been waiting to travel for quite a long time," Schoel said after applying for his passport Friday. "I'm ready to get back out there and start travelling."

He's not the only one. Schoel and his fellow travellers in line may be part of the deluge of passport applications Canadian officials are braced for. 

Urgent passport services have been available throughout the pandemic, but with borders closed and public health measures in place most people had little use for them.

Service Canada issued more than 2.3-million passports the year before the pandemic began, but handed out only 363,225 the year after that. 

Already demand is climbing, with 467,541 passports issued this year as of Sept. 30.

The Canadian government still recommends against non-essential travel outside of the country because of the risk of contracting COVID-19 abroad and bringing it home.

But with the U-S border set to reopen to vaccinated travellers on Nov. 8, the federal government is preparing for a rise in demand for passport services.

"As travel restrictions are lifted, Service Canada is preparing for an increase in demand for passport services," read a statement from Employment and Social Development Canada.

The department's website said people can expect to get their passports about 20 days after they apply at Service Canada, but some people report waits of just over a month. 

The government is closely monitoring the increased demand, according to Mikaela Harrison, the press secretary of Minister  of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen.

The government has protocols in place to continue to provide passport services to Canadians within service standards, she said in a statement. 

"I think I gave myself enough time but I am happy that my parents told me to check when my passport expired, because I honestly didn't even think about it until they said so," said Schoel.

As vaccination rates rise across the globe, so will traveller confidence, according to Tourism Economics, a global research firm.

"We expect a more significant easing of restrictions to follow and traveller confidence to expand, with international arrivals set to regain pre-crisis levels by 2024," said the firm's June 2021 Global Travel Service report. 

The firm expects international travel to remain at about 59 per cent below pre-crisis levels, but said there remains significant pent up demand. 

Meanwhile the government is reporting higher than average call volumes related to passport applications, and has urged people not to visit Service Canada unless absolutely necessary. 

The government has also extended the eligibility period for renewals, so passports that expired on or after Feb. 1, 2019 can be renewed.

That way Canadians can wait to renew their passports until they actually have plans to leave the country. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 16, 2021.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled the surname of Pierce Schoel.