Passport applications still backlogged despite hundreds of new workers hired

A man holds a Canadian passport in this file image.

When the federal government loosened COVID-19 restrictions for international travel, Canadians rushed to the passport office, causing massive backlogs.

Months later, those backlogs are still happening.

Tesh Naidoo owns Sooter’s Photography, right beside the passport office.

“It’s been pretty busy,” says Naidoo. “There’s a lot of work to do but it’s pretty constant for us; we have a good formula working.”

Naidoo says for the last few months, Sooter’s has been taking more than 50 passport photos per day.

“It’s just one of those situations,” says Naidoo. “I think in Ottawa, people are very patient and understanding, so it’s been regular business for us. We try to keep calm and get though the day and it’s fine for us.”

Some waited in line for hours, only to be turned away at the end of the day.

“We came here yesterday and we were almost going to make it through the line,” says one Ottawa resident. “But since it closes at four, we couldn’t make it.”

Despite the hiring of 500 new workers, lineups are still happening at many passport offices around the country.

Between April 2021 and March 2022, Service Canada processed nearly 1.3 million passports. In the previous year, it had processed 360,000.

"Service Canada Centres across the country are working hard to ensure that anyone with travel plans receives a passport prior to their travel date, despite the significant increase in volumes," a Service Canada spokesperson said in a statement. "Although processing times are currently longer than prior to the pandemic, 76% of Canadians who apply for passports by mail currently receive their passports under 35 business days. 97% who apply In-Person at a specialized passport office, currently receive their passports under 10 business days."

In March, the federal government announced a "simplified renewal process" for passports, which removed a number of previous requirements, including the need for a guarantor.

Brian Donovan was at Sooter’s getting his passport photos. He says he’s in no rush for his passport and won’t put up with the line.

“I don’t know if there’s any other time in the day where the lineups aren’t around the block,” says Donovan. “There is that option to mail it and that’s what I’m going to do. At my age, for me to be standing around for four hours or something like that, it could be very hard on the back and knees and so on and so forth.”

Right now, the average processing time to get your passport is about 25 days if applying by mail or at a Service Canada centre.

“It feels like an influx happened, but this could have been predicted,” says Yad Bhuller who is awaiting the arrival of his passport. “Their website isn’t the best. You tend to go in circles, but the service inside wasn’t bad. The supervisor told us to be patient. I am a little bit nervous because we are travelling soon.”

The owner of Sooter’s sees people waiting in Service Canada lines for hours every day outside his photography shop and offers this advice:

“I wouldn’t come by if I’m not doing any urgent travel anytime soon,” says Naidoo. “I would just wait it out a little bit.”