Cliff Levine and his wife embarked Monday afternoon on the 12-hour, 865-mile trek from Miami to New Orleans, with their 2-year-old in the backseat.
The Davie family had no choice. Friday’s scheduled departure for a London business trip meant Levine and his wife needed the passports he expected to pick up Monday.
Except Levine found the Miami Passport Agency, 1501 Biscayne Blvd., closed “until further notice.” And he found himself to be one of the U.S. citizens being told they now needed to go to passport agencies in Atlanta or New Orleans.
“I can’t contemplate [that] a country as great as the United States cannot figure out a way to serve its citizens in a situation like this,” Levine said in a video he posted to Twitter.
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The agency says the office in the Omni building, on the northern edge of downtown Miami, is unable to take appointments or process passports. All passport processing in Florida and some other parts of the Southeast flows through the Miami office.
A State Department spokesman said the office suffered serious water damage on Sunday.
The temporary shutdown is affecting people with urgent or emergency travel plans who need to apply for or pick up a passport in person.
Or people such as Delray Beach’s Deborah Sullivan, who submitted her application with documentation at the South Palm Beach County Courthouse during March’s Passport Fair. All of that was being routed through the Miami office.
Sullivan wants to join her family in Italy this summer. But she doesn’t want to buy the ticket without her passport, in case it doesn’t get processed in time. She also doesn’t want to wait too long to buy the ticket because then she’s paying the cost for an expedited passport and a plane ticket with little or no advance-purchase discount.
Most adult passport renewals can be done by mail. The processing time is six to eight weeks, two to three weeks with expedited processing (which costs a fee).
Minors under 16 years old must apply in person with their parents, but that can happen at a local satellite office unless travel is occurring soon.
The main office shutdown is sure to cause delays.
“It complicates things tremendously,” said Olga Ramudo, CEO of Express Travel in Coral Gables.
Ramudo said things that can be done swifly with a passport agency in town turn into time-consuming tasks. Or they turn impossible: Ramudo said she had a client who lost a passport days before an international cruise. Without the local office for a quick turnaround, the client would’ve been stuck on shore when the ship left port.
Customers with appointments at the Miami office will be rescheduled at another agency office out of state. Those customers, as well as those scheduled to pick up a passport or needing an expedited passport, should call the National Passport Information Center at 877-487-2778 or 888-874-7793 (TTY/TTD).
On Monday morning, callers to the appointment line seeking times for the next two weeks were offered appointments at the agency offices in Atlanta or New Orleans.
Levine’s appointment in the New Orleans Passport Agency is at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. He said he was told he’d have to reapply but wasn’t guaranteed his passport would be ready in time for the London trip. He also said he hasn’t been told whether the $340 he paid for expedited passports would be refunded.
Fort Lauderdale’s David Alderman, heading to Costa Rica soon, took Monday off from work for his appointment after ponying up $200 for an expedited passport.
Now he’ll lose Friday and Saturday flying back and forth to the Atlanta Passport Agency, as well as another $200 on flights and hotel.
On the State Department’s Passports & International Travel site, there’s a page dedicated to discussing passport expeditors and couriers, “private companies, some of which are allowed to submit passport applications on behalf of customers.”
These companies serve those who need a passport for travel inside the expedited processing time frame, sometimes with a week, thus necessitating a visit to a passport agency. Several such companies are listed at rushpassportcenter.com. Guidance for choosing a passport expeditor can be found at uspassporthelpguide.com, along with other sites.