Service Canada received 500,000 passport applications in March and April

The federal government has received nearly 500,000 passport applications over the last two months, as scores of Canadians prepare to travel internationally for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

The numbers were provided by Employment and Social Development Canada, which provides passport services across the country, in response to questions about the long lines and lack of available appointments at many Service Canada locations.

By comparison, the government issued just 363,000 passports for the entire first year of the pandemic, from April 2020 through March 2021.

There were 1.27 million passports issued over the 12 months that followed, including 960,000 from September 2021 through March 2022 alone.

To manage the increased demand, the government hired 500 new employees "specifically to support the processing of passport applications," ESDC communications manager Natalie Huneault told CTV News in an email statement.

"Service Canada continues to hire and train more passport officers and teams are working overtime every day and on weekends to increase processing capacity," she added.

The overloaded system has left many would-be travellers with few options but to wait in long lineups at passport offices, sometimes overnight in the cold.

The queues have become so daunting, several people have started offering to hold passport-seekers' places in line for hundreds of dollars.

"If you don't have an appointment to get your passport, you need to be lining up at night," reads an ad for one of the services, which was posted on Facebook Marketplace last week. "I will keep your place in the line for you so you can show up at 8:30 a.m. and sleep the night."

Huneault said Service Canada has strict rules when it comes to picking up passports on behalf of a third-party, but those "do not apply to clients simply waiting in line."

"Our focus is on serving those clients at our counters, who deserve the best support we are able to offer," she said.

Back 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. That's helpful for people with no immediate travel plans, who can apply for a passport by mail, but those hoping to travel soon have to apply in person.

And booking an appointment in advance can mean waiting for more than a month. A number of passport offices in B.C.'s Lower Mainland had zero openings for at least 25 business days when surveyed by CTV News this week.

Huneault said the government understands "the concern this may cause for clients," but encouraged travellers to visit the Service Canada website and consider all of the options available to them.