County workers feel the push for the passport
WILLMAR -- New federal rules that require people to have passports to fly to places like Canada and Mexico after Jan. 23 has been keeping the Kandiyohi County Recorder's office busy.
The number of passports the office typically processes on a given day has doubled, or even tripled recently, said Recorder Julie Kalkbrenner.
In the past, the county office processed about a dozen passport applications each day. During the last two months, however, there have been as many as 40 or 50 applications processed on a given day.
The overload has meant delays in passport applications being completed, long days for employees and concerns about after-hours security in the building and, she said.
The reason for the rush is because of a new rule being implemented by the Department of Homeland Security that requires passports for everyone who's traveling by air between the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda.
The new rule goes into effect Jan. 23.
By this time next year, the requirement will also apply to those locations for people traveling by land and sea.
Kalkbrenner said college kids planning a spring break trip or families who have warm winter vacations planned have been lining up at the office to get the paperwork completed.
It can take six to eight weeks to receive a passport from the Department of State office in Seattle after the application is filed with the county.
Without enough lead time, Kalkbrenner said, people may find themselves without a passport by the time their plane departs.
A passport costs about $100 per person. It's slightly less for children under 16.
For an extra $60 a person, the federal application process can be speeded up and a passport received in less time.
Kalkbrenner said some days there are people waiting at the door for the county office to open so they can file a passport application before going to work. There's also a flurry of business during the noon hour. But the biggest rush is at 3:30 p.m. when families pick up their children from school and bring them to the county office to apply for passports.
Everyone who is applying for a passport must come to the office in person, said Kalkbrenner. Even babies are required to have passports, she said.
It can take 30-45 minutes for people to complete the process at the county office, she said, which means long waits for people who arrive close to the end of the day. She's shifted employees in the department to help handle the crowds in the passport line.
"When they all come late in the day, they have to wait their turn," she said.
Some days it's 5:30 p.m. before the last person is done, even though the office building closes at 4:30. Without any other employees in the building, she said there have been concerns about after-hour security. Being rushed to meet the needs of the customers standing in line can also increase the risk of making mistakes.
"We don't want to be doing them in a hurry at the end of the day," she said. "We want to do a thorough job also."
Starting on Tuesday, Kalkbrenner said no applications will be accepted after 4 p.m.
She said it would be helpful if families came earlier in the day. In response to parents who object to taking their children out of school to file the application, Kalkbrenner said it's a short time compared to the week of school the kids will miss while on vacation.
She expects the office to be busy next week when kids are out of school for the holiday break.
Kalkbrenner said it's helpful if the applications are fully completed before coming to the county office. Some of the required information, like the town where your parents were born, could take time and a few phone calls to find. Certified birth certificates and a valid driver's license or other identification are required. Children need a signed consent from both parents to receive a passport, even if the parents are divorced.
Kalkbrenner also said separate checks or money orders are required for each applicant. Cash is not accepted.
Counties receive $30 from each passport fee.