With thousands of Utahns seeking passports each year, including Latter-day Saint missionaries traveling abroad, Sen. Mitt Romney is asking the U.S. State Department to open a passport agency in Salt Lake City.
Romney, R-Utah, urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a letter Thursday to consider how to better meet the needs of residents, particularly those in the West, who face difficulties in obtaining passports as the Bureau of Consular Affairs works to bring services back to pre-COVID-19 levels.
People in Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming must renew their passports by mail or travel long distances to neighboring states to reach the nearest passport offices.
“Utah is rapidly expanding as a center for global commerce and tourism, is home to thousands of Latter-day Saints who annually embark on worldwide religious missions, and, like much of the Western Mountain region, has a rapidly growing population,” Romney wrote.
Those factors, he said, create consistently high demand for passport services.
Last year, the government issued more than 120,000 passports to Utahns, and 674,433 passports have been issued over just the past four years. Across those six Western states, over 3,528,000 passports were issued to residents since 2017. Utahns currently must renew passports by mail or travel hours to reach the nearest offices in Arizona or Colorado.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headquartered in Salt Lake City, sends thousands of missionaries, many from Utah, to countries around the world each year.
Romney reminded Blinken in the letter that he said in response to questions at his confirmation hearing that he supports reviewing and taking steps to ensure that passport services are accessible to all eligible Americans, including those living outside of large population centers and in states with a high demand for passport services.
The government’s decision to suspend most consular affairs services in March 2020 resulted in a backlog of 1.6 million applications for passports or passport renewals.
Romney and several Republican senators sent a letter to then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging the State Department to expedite the process “to be as productive as possible in fulfilling their responsibilities to the American people.”
A routine passport takes about 10 to 12 weeks to obtain, according to the Bureau of Consular affairs website. An expedited passport, which requires an additional fee, takes four to six weeks.