By Andrew Mitchell
In an effort to catch up with the growing backlog of passport applications, Passport Canada is opening three new offices in the Lower Mainland this week in Burnaby, Coquitlam and the North Shore.
The Service Canada Centres will accept applications and review them for accuracy and completion, collect fees and personal identification, and send the applications on to Passport Canada for review. Passport Canada will now also courier the completed passports to applicants.
The passport rush is the result of a new American law that requires all people visiting the U.S. or passing through by air and sea to have valid passports. The law will be extended to all land border crossings some time in 2008.
As a result, the average wait time for passports is up to 25 business days longer than normal in most cases, and people are lining up as early as 4 a.m. at passport offices to ensure that they will get a chance to see an agent. People arriving after the passport offices are open are frequently turned away.
Passport Canada has added approximately 500 employees this year to deal with the backlog, but the time spent training and clearing employees has made it hard to get those employees on the job.
Since the passport rules came into effect, concessions have been made for youth 15 and under, and teens 16 to 18 that are travelling with schools, youth groups and sports teams. Groups on both sides of the board are also hoping to exempt seniors, while also lobbying to have the land border passport requirement waived or replaced by another system that would allow the use of new driver’s licenses and identification cards.
For Sea to Sky residents, the North Shore office is at 100-22 West Esplanade. Hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday.