OTTAWA — The federal government declared victory over a massive backlog of passport applications Tuesday as the social development minister announced that 98 per cent of the delayed applications have now been processed.
Most new passport applications were being processed on time by October, but thousands of people who applied before then still faced excessive delays.
Those delays have finally come to an end, Social Development Minister Karina Gould announced Tuesday.
"The backlog is virtually eliminated," she declared during a press conference at a cabinet retreat with her fellow ministers in Hamilton, Ont.
The pandemic caused a nearly two-year lull in passport applications, but once people began to travel again, the demand for new passports grew dramatically.
That surge led to long lines and longer waits for travel documents.
Some people are just receiving their passports now, despite the fact that they applied as early as the summer, Gould said before delivering an apology to those who had to wait.
The few people who are still waiting could be held up for several reasons, she said. Some applications are more complex because of things like child-custody issues, for example, while others have been flagged for eligibility or integrity reasons.
"Canadians can have confidence that they should be able to get their passport on time, so long as everything is correct with their application," she said.
To catch up on the backlog, Service Canada doubled the number of employees processing passports since March, and workers racked up thousands of hours of overtime.
The new workers are expected to stay on to help field future spikes in demand, Gould said.
She said she expects a large number of Canadians to apply in the next few years because the first passports issued with a 10-year expiry date will be due for renewal in July.
Service Canada is expected to process as many as 3.5 million passports this fiscal year, she said, which is double the number of passports processed last year. Between three and five million applications are expected to come in each year for the next few years.
The good news, Gould said, is that Service Canada will be better able to handle that level of demand than it was last spring.
Between 80 and 85 per cent of applications last year came from people who had never had a passport before, which meant they were more complicated to process, she said.
"Whereas what we're anticipating, particularly for this summer, is a higher level of renewals, and those are much simpler to do," she told reporters.
Though passport offices are running normally again, Gould still encouraged people who plan to travel to check the expiry dates on their passports and get their applications in early to avoid delays.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2023.
Laura Osman, The Canadian Press