Some travellers keen to get their passports will now be able to request their mail-in applications be transferred to any of the more than 300 local Service Canada centres for processing.
They can also now do so even if their need for a passport is slightly less urgent, as in for those planning to leave the country within the next few weeks, instead of a couple of days.
Until now, applicants in the queue could only ask for a transfer by visiting one of 35 specialized passport sites across Canada, or by contacting the call centre.
The new policy will apply to anyone who completed their application by mail more than 20 business days ago, which allows enough time for it to have been entered into the system, and has proof that they are travelling within 20 business days from when they ask for a transfer.
Social Development Minister Karina Gould says depending on when the person plans to travel, the application will either be expedited and their passport mailed to them, or their file will be transferred to a local office for printing and pickup.
People who haven’t waited the required 20 days but still need their passport quickly because they have imminent plans to travel can ask to have their applications transferred to a Service Canada location, but will have to pay extra fees.
The changes come after months of stressful waits for Canadians to renew their passports and long, hectic lines at passport offices as workers try to expedite needed documents.
Last month the prime minister announced he would assemble a committee of cabinet ministers to troubleshoot wait times and backlogs for immigration applications and passport processing, which he called “unacceptable.”
The government aims to process 90 per cent of applications mailed from within Canada or made at a Service Canada counter within 20 business days of receiving them.
Only 49 per cent of all mail-in and Service Canada applications processed last week met the 20-day target, government statistics show.
Gould says the changes will speed up processing times for overdue passports and shorten the lineup for urgent requests at passport offices.
The government blames the long waits on the fact that few people renewed or applied for new passports during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that people can more easily and safely leave the country, the pent-up demand has hit the government in a giant wave.
The government expects to receive more than four million passport applications this year.
Laura Osman/The Canadian Press