Yona Shemesh, 24, was born in Los Angeles, but he moved to Israel with his family at age 9. In July 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic was raging, he booked a ticket to Los Angeles to visit his grandparents in June 2021, knowing that he would have nearly an entire year to renew his American passport, which had long since expired.
Eight months later, he was still trying to get an appointment at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem to do just that.
About 9 million U.S. citizens currently live abroad, and as the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel finally appears, immigration lawyers estimate more than 100,000 can’t get travel documents to return to the United States.
Despite the State Department making headway on a massive backlog of passport applications in the early months of the pandemic, many consulates and embassies abroad, plagued by Covid-19 restrictions and staffing reductions, remain closed for all but emergency services. Travel is restarting, but for American expats who had a baby abroad in the past year or saw their passport expire during the pandemic, elusive appointments for documents are keeping them grounded.
The Jerusalem Post. American Citizens Abroad, an advocacy organization for U.S. expats, sent an official request to the State Department in October 2020 to prioritize Americans’ access to consular services abroad, “but people are still experiencing delays,” said the organization’s executive director, Marylouise Serrato.
In Mexico, which is believed to have more American expats than any other country, a recent search on the appointment database for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City showed zero available appointments for passport services, even with emergency circumstances (appointments from July onward have not yet been released).
ItsEasy Passport & Visa, a passport-and-visa-expediting service, said that many of them are so small that they’re nearly impossible to track.
“Since there is an online appointment system, anybody can log on, stockpile these appointments and resell them,” he said. “In the United States, they can be sold for $200 or $250, but out of the country they can charge much more.”
Mr. Shemesh got the broker’s phone number and transferred the money, and in one day, he had a confirmed appointment.
“I tried for eight months to get an appointment, and it was really a bummer because my money is something I have to work hard for. I paid more to renew my passport than I did on the ticket to Los Angeles. It felt like blackmail.”
Desperate Americans in other countries have considered paying for other services, as well.