State Dept. brushes off critics, raises passport fees

by Edward Hasbrouck on July 1, 2010

This week the Department of State published an interim final rule putting its previously proposed increases in passport and visa fees into effect as of July 13, 2010.

The State Department admitted that more than 98% of the comments received from individual members of the public were opposed to the fees, as were comments from the travel industry and from the Consumer Travel Alliance and other consumer and civil liberties organizations.  But the State Department brushed off those objections (failing even to acknowledge complaints that the rulemaking violated U.S. international treaty obligations on freedom of movement, as well as violating the Administrative Procedure Act) and finalized the proposed fee increases unchanged. No consideration was given to their economic impact on self-employed or freelance business travelers, despite the requirement for such an assessment under the Regulatory Flexibility Act.

Unless the interim final rule is challenged in court (perhaps by travel companies, on APA grounds), fees for new or renewal passports and “passport cards” will all increase for applications received by the Passport Office on or after July 13, 2010.

The most extreme increase will be for adding blank visa pages to a current passport, currently a free service for which a new fee of $82 will be imposed.  Check how many blank visas pages are left in your passport, and when your passport will expire. If your passport might fill up before it expires, and you won’t be needing it for travel until at least the end of the summer, apply for new pages now.

Unless you pay $60 extra for “expedited” (2-week) service, standard passport application processing time is supposedly 4-6 weeks. Adding pages sometimes takes much less time than getting a new passport. But because the fee increase is likely to prompt a surge of last-minute applications for all sorts of passport services, I wouldn’t count on getting your passport back until the end of August if you send it in (by Express Mail) today.

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  • SirWired

    The complaints about it violating treaty obligations were frankly quite silly, so I’m not surprised they were ignored entirely. (The amount of the increased passport fees, when averaged over the ten-year validity of the passport, is so low it’s not even worth talking about; and even the total price for a one-time trip is also not horrible in relation to airfare to virtually all foreign destinations. It definitely does not add up to a Civil Liberties violation by any measure.)

    And the fact that 98% of the comments were negative tells you nothing. Of COURSE most of the comments were negative; this is a fee increase! I don’t know anybody except govt. budget planners that actually like fee increases. I’m surprised that ANY of the comments submitted weren’t negative.

    I flipped through most of the CTA’s, et al, objections, and the only one I could not easily pick apart without trying hard was the objection to the fee for adding more pages.

  • John

    For those picking apart the fee increases … Has anyone looked at what it costs the US to process passport applications and visas vs the income from fees?

    This is a perfect place for pay to play pricing. Last time I checked, a passport is not a mandatory document. There are plenty of people in the US that go their entire life without one.

    I’m with SirWired on this one

  • http://hasbrouck.org Edward Hasbrouck

    John says, “Last time I checked, a passport is not a mandatory document.”

    Unfortunately, US Federal regulations have been changed to make passports mandatory for US citizens crossing US borders. The final phase of the changes took effect June 1, 2009, when passports began to be required for crossing land borders to and from Canada and Mexico.

  • John

    Edward … No one has to leave the US. The document is not mandatory. You could choose to live your entire life and never leave (not my choice but considering the low rate of passport ownership in the US, one that many choose).

    Again, passports aren’t mandatory. They aren’t even “semi-mandatory” like a driver’s license is for adults.
    My grandfather never owned one, my wife doesn’t have one, none of my in-laws have one. Leaving the US is a choice

  • Don

    The most likely reason for the fee increase may be that the annual salary of the average desk job at the passport centers is a little below that of a congressman or Obama aide. It is widely understood that the general government employee now makes more that an individual in a similar job in the private sector. On the serious side, if this passport processing were to be farmed out to a private business, the cost would probably be around $25 for a passport and you would get additional pages for free.

  • Terry

    In light of Arizona’s “Papers, Please”, a passport is mandatory. If the police can stop you and ask for proof of citizenship/legal status, a passport is the only way to prove citizenship. With other states considering adopting AZ’s law, US citizens will need to purchase and carry their passports at all times. And no, a driver’s license does nothing to prove citizenship/legal status.

    Unless you want to say that a middle-aged white guy who speaks with a Midwestern accent would never be asked to prove my citizenship.

  • Don

    It would have been useful if this reporter would have actually printed how much passport fees increased. After digging through the linked 14 page legal document I believe the fee for an adult passport is increasing from $55 to $70.

  • http://hasbrouck.org/ Edward Hasbrouck

    @Don Perhaps you didn’t notice the link, but the table of new fees is hyperlinked from the word “fees” in the original article. It’s also linked here. because you have to pay both a “passport fee’ and an “application execution fee”, and both fees are being increased, the total fee for a first-time adult passport will be $135 (up from $100) and for an adult passport renewal $110 (up from $75).

  • Jeff L

    Which means, realistically, the cost of a passport over 10 years has raised by the rate of $3.50 per year to $11, with a one time charge of $25 if you did not have one before.

    At the risk of sounding snarky, if $11 per year will break your vacation plans, you are operating on too tight of a budget (if you must have one for work, your employer will often reimburse the cost of getting one).

    Passport fees don’t just cover the cost of getting the passport, they are also part of the entire immigration budget. With the assumption that you will be traveling overseas if you get one, that means you will be using incoming immigration at least once and are therefore contributing to services you take advantage of.

  • Adele

    Hey, here’s an idea! Why not let the airlines take over passport processing? I foresee the following graduation of fees:
    1) Basic passport $6, but available only to the first 100 customers who register on line the first Tuesday of the month. Otherwise, passport is $50.
    2) Basic passport contains 1 page, extra pages may be purchased at $5 each. If you purchase more than 100 pages in a year, additional pages are free.
    3) You must use your passport once every 18 months, or it expires.
    4) If your initial travel is to different countries or at different dates than listed on your passport application, there is a $150 change fee.
    5) Special “executive” passport that entitles you to “free” coffee and pastries while you wait in line at Immigration and Customs- $2000.

    That’s just the beginning!

  • Robert

    Don Wrote -
    “The most likely reason for the fee increase may be that the annual salary of the average desk job at the passport centers is a little below that of a congressman or Obama aide.”

    The pay for a GS9 government employee whitch is a high level clerical grade or low level management, is from $41,563 to $54,028, and most processing passport applications are probably GS5s or GS7s. I’m pretty sure that these jobs also require a security clearance. This is not exaclty a salary where one could send their kids to private school.
    Your characterization of Government employees being overpaid is disingenuous.

  • Puzzled

    It’s important to bear in mind that this is the 2nd major increase in passport fees in the past couple of years.

    I’ve held a passport my entire adult life and probably always will but find these recent rate increases fairly arbitrary. I also see how the fees add up for families; the outlay for a family making a trip to the Caribbean, for example, is not insubstantial.

  • World Traveler

    I could be wrong but I think that travel/tourism industry might be just as concerned about the visa fee increases. Right now, the fees will rise to $140 for a tourist visa (and thats not with a guarantee that you will be approved in your visa request). While an American might be able to more easily swallow that fee, your average middle-class South American visiting Florida on holiday might find that a bit excessive. (Because they make proportionally less than Americans.) And they may choose to go to a non-American holiday destination instead.

    And I haven’t started speaking about the potential in lost revenue due to the visa fee increases for foreign business travelers.

    I accept that fees have to increase to cover costs, but I can also understand concerns from the travel industry about the potential impact on the industry in general when we are still in “recession recovery” mode.

  • PauletteB

    Don’s post is a political snark rather than a constructive comment, and it doesn’t belong in this forum.

    The only problem I have with the fee increases is the new additional pages fee; $0 to $82 is a big jump. Considering how the price of gasoline and other commodities, including paper, has risen over the same period, the rest of the fees seem reasonable.

  • govt going bk

    Looks like just another tax.

  • Heather

    Terry….
    your comment “And no, a driver’s license does nothing to prove citizenship/legal status” is not accurate as stated.

    In Maryland, a law was passed that requires proof of citizenship in order to obtain a drivers license. As such, when I received my notification to re-new my license this year, it stated that we are supposed to BRING proof of us citizenship, such as
    a social security card.
    *******
    Don says:
    “On the serious side, if this passport processing were to be farmed out to a private business, the cost would probably be around $25 for a passport and you would get additional pages for free.”

    I don’t believe this is correct. I’ve had first hand knowledge of “contractors” working for the federal govt, and the
    “real” cost of a contractor. While the salary of a contractor is
    technically less than a govt worker, the cost of the CONTRACT
    FOR that contractor, doubles the cost to the govt. “Contract
    Company A” still has to provide the contractors health benefits, vacations…still has to pay the people who run the admin part of the
    company, pay the mort/rent on the building that those admin
    people sit in.

    I won’t go into WHY the govt opted to get on the “contractor” bandwagon on this forum.

    I will say though, that even with the benefits the govt empl has, statistics have ultimately shown over time, that contractors do NOT
    save the govt money. But with the billet and accounting practices in
    place, it APPEARS to the public that the govt is saving taxpayer
    dollars. This is NOT true.

    Also Don, your comments
    “The most likely reason for the fee increase may be that the annual salary of the average desk job at the passport centers is a little below that of a congressman or Obama aide.”

    were made, as you yourself have said, without factual knowledge.
    How is it that you know what the “average” salary is at the passport
    center? Many of the jobs in this location are going to be of a
    clerical nature. These types of jobs do NOT command “high”
    salaries.

  • Donna

    Heather, A social secuirty card does not prove citizenship, (there are residents here with temporary work status and foreign investors who cannot hold a job here, but can legally own a business, and hence have a social security number……and there is no such law in Maryland. The new rules for all 50 states, as imposed by the new homeland secuirty act now require more strict regulations for obtaining a drivers license, and a social security card is just one of the extra documents you can submit to get enough “points’ to prove your identity, NOT your citizenship. And in case you failed to notice. licensing fees just increased substantailly in most states as well.
    For a single person now applying for a passport, the increase is $35, which is between 30% and 50% increase, depending on whether or not you are renewing or getting a first time passport. Apply that to a family of four or five, and now you have a significant cost. As a travel agent, I can attest to the fact that this will impact tourism at a crucial time in the economic recovery of tourism, which has been hit quite hard. The media just doesn’t publicize it the way they do the housing market. (To get a better anology, what if closing costs increased on purchasing and selling house right now by 30%)?. A better approach would have been to impose a gradual increase over two or three years instead of this quantum leap. And especially in light of the fact that he cost just jumped over 10% just two years ago. The only proof of citizenship is a birth certificate or a passport card or passport for a natural US born citizen, or an “enhanced” drivers license, which are only available in states bordering Canada. Combine this hit to the southern Gulf states whose tourism is also being affected by the oil spill, (take away the cruisers leaving from Galveston, New Orleans, Florida, etc….or the Europeans and South Americans arriving, because we also significantly increased foreign visa entry fees) and you have negatively impacted a large part of the population who depends on tourism, both arriving from foreign destinations and leaving for points afar. No, it is not mandatory to leave the country, or to enter as a foreigner, but the cost of doing so should not be prohibitive………Bottom line? This will create a further negative impact on the economy and create a substantial loss of income for thousands at a time when the government is otherwise trying to stimulate job growth. Just another example of large government control and bureaucratic ineffiency.

  • Michael Anisfeld

    Teh quickest way to get extra passport pages is to walk into any US COnsulate overseas. It can be typically performed in about 30 – 40 minutes (done it in London and Berlin). Each passport can only have extra pages inserted twice.

  • Criley

    If my renewal request is postmarked today, do I pay todays fees or tomorrows? The passport office disconnects me everytime I call.

  • http://www.consumertraveler.com/today/state-dept-brushes-off-critics-raises-passport-fees/ Robert

    SirWired states “I don’t know anybody except govt. budget planners that actually like fee increases. Since this is the only statement he makes that I aggree with. Please tell us SirWired, which branch of the federal government to you work for?

  • http://www.adreamtrip4u.com HL

    As a retired government employee, I know that MY salary was WAY below a private employee’s salary doing the same type of job I was doing and that is true of most government employees. The government did plenty of studies about it and started to try to equalize it several times, only to stop part way through. Once we were to have gotten a special cost of living raise for 3 consecutive years to put us within earshot of somewhere near what we were supposed to be paid, but it was stopped after the first year, so it has NEVER caught up and has infact falled back below where it was. They also started the special pay for the geographical areas people live in. For this type of pay, if you moved to another pay locality, your pay changed as well. But studies for this also revealed that pay equality was still in favor of the private sector.

    As for the contracting to private business, even though a private company gets the contract by being the lowest bid, there are still change orders after they get the contract that shoot the cost up so much that it becomes WAY ABOVE what the government can do the job for at the end of the job. I think some companines low-ball the bid because they intend to add the change orders. I’ve seen this first hand MANY times and my fellow employees and I were so frustrated by this, but could not do anything about it since a certain percentage of jobs have to be contracted out to private businesses and low-balling is very hard to prove.

    I am now a travel consultant and agree wholeheartedly with Donna about all the things she said. The increases will hurt the people that need the business the most. It should have been phased in over a couple of years. If we are trying to get the tourism industry restarted or ramped up, then the government should consider that when they raise fees. For some people the $30 – $50 DOES make a difference. A lot of my cruisers are older people on fixed incomes and save all year or even 2 years to come along on the cruises I do, denying themselves of other things to be able to do the cruise. I don’t want them to not be able to come along due to more fees that don’t really need to be increased substantially at one time.

  • wryly

    JOHN said: “Again, passports aren’t mandatory. They aren’t even “semi-mandatory” like a driver’s license is for adults.”

    I recently moved to another state in the mid-west and they REQUIRED my passport to get my drivers license. I would have to say that makes it at least “semi-mandatory”

  • mp

    Actually, the fee went from $67(?) in 2008 to $75 in 2009 and $100 in 2010. That’s a hefty increase- 33% increase for one year and 49% over a two year period. I think I paid $35 ten years ago which is a 185% increase. Naturally, I’m upset. Fees are by far the least democratic method of taking advantage of law abiding Americans. If public opinion has no bearing on the State Department (sadly Mrs. Clinton by extension) then perhaps we need a private option (being facetious) to opt out of government programs run amok. At the risk of sounding glib, there is a serious disconnect going on here.

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