Is your passport about to expire?
If you haven't booked travel, you might want to press pause on trying to get a new one for now.
The government recently announced new triage measures to curb wait times at passport offices across Canada — but union representatives say the issue is about to get worse before it gets better.
As of April 1, fully vaccinated Canadians returning to the country no longer needed to provide a negative result from a PCR test. And, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada, the number of return air trips by Canadian residents rose steeply from 23,600 in April 2021 to 611,500 in April 2022.
Scores of Metro Vancouverites have taken to social media to express frustration and outrage following long waits at passport offices across the regions. Many of them have shared horror stories about their experiences that include everything from waiting overnight or being turned away after waiting for over 12 hours.
In early May, advertisements for "passport line holders" started popping up in online forums such as Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist Vancouver, and via personal websites.
In response to mounting public outcry, the Canadian government announced on June 23 new "triage measures" to improve the client experience at passport offices across the country. The new system kicked off in Vancouver on Monday (June 27), with priority to clients travelling within the following 24 to 48 hours; those with long-term travel plans will be directed to the most appropriate service channels.
Passport Canada: Passport office wait times
Kevin King is the national president of the Union of National Employees — a union representing over 21,000 members in various sectors and roughly 800 passport officers. He tells Vancouver is Awesome the union has been asking its employer to provide a safer working environment for members as tensions rise between frustrated clients and staff.
When it comes to implementing triage measures and prioritizing emergency travel, he said, "tempers are flaring."
Numerous people who should have mailed in their passports to get them renewed during the pandemic did not. Now, they are visiting passport offices, increasing wait times.
"I don't book international travel unit I have a passport," he underscored, emphasizing that people who are going on a holiday should get the document in well in advance.
"I also believe that when people are queuing up for emergency passport issues...it is not an emergency if you're travelling for leisure," he noted, added that travelling for family reunification or travelling for humanitarian reasons would be "bona-fide reasons you should be in the queue for a 24 to 48-hour passport."
Will the new 'triage measures' solve the problem?
King said he doesn't know how many staff have been hired but that It takes 12 weeks to train new passport officers.
A more pressing issue, however, is the influx of people who will want to renew their 10-year passports, said the union president.
"I think I see the passport lines being worse because of volumes...you can see an increase toward the peak volume period of the renewal period of the 10-year passport," he explained.
Introduced in Canada in 2013, these 10-year passports will expire in 2023 — but many countries require a passport to be valid for six months before its expiration date.
Sargy Chima, national vice-president for the Canada Employment and Immigration Union in the British Columbia and Yukon Territory region said the 10-year passport issue is not going to "be resolved overnight" and they are working with the employer.
"We knew the 10-year surge was coming and COVID happened and there was a halt," she told V.I.A. "We need staff."
And while the triage may help, long lineups will continue with insufficient staff. The employees are already working overtime and can't meet the demand, Chima underscored.
"People are overworked. They're phoning in sick. It's impacting their work/life balance. It affects their mental health," she said.
"Be nice to our members they are working a lot of overtime."
The federal government has recently added a new feature that allows people to check the wait times at Service Canada offices across the country.
And recently, a Vancouver blogger went viral after she shared her experience flying to Edmonton to obtain her travel document. She told V.I.A. the experience in Edmonton was "night and day compared to Vancouver."