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Spring break brings a prime opportunity for members of Congress and Capitol Hill staffers to travel abroad.
Meanwhile, the revelation that at least two passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight were traveling on stolen passports highlights the security risk when travel documents disappear.
On Thursday, officials from the State Department’s Office of Passport Services will set up shop in the Rayburn Foyer from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to provide the Capitol community with sage travel advice and on-site passport services.
“We know how busy people on the Hill are, and want to make ourselves available to them so they can come and get their passports in plenty of time,” said Brenda Sprague, deputy assistant secretary for passport services in the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.
During the four-hour fair, State Department personnel will be accepting passport applications and partnering with the United States Postal Service to snap new mug shots for travel documents. Sprague said Thursday will be a great opportunity for first-time applicants who are required to appear in person. The fair will also put Hill applicants on the fast track.
“I think people can count on the fact that if they have urgent travel, especially if they have official requirements, we’ll be turning those around very quickly,” Sprague said, pointing out that standard turnaround time is four to six weeks and expedited service is usually completed in two to three weeks. For Passport Day on the Hill, “I would think we could do it within 10 days or less.”
Sprague pointed out the fair is a great chance to update or apply for passports for children, which are only valid for five years. Minors must have their parents present or bring along a notarized affidavit to apply.
For those who might have questions about how to protect themselves from passport theft, Sprague said the fair will provided an opportunity for personal conversations with State Department employees.
“We have a very clear-cut message on lost and stolen passports,” she said. Travelers should take “appropriate safeguards,” to make sure their travel documents are secure so you can “put your hands on it in a hurry, because a U.S. passport can be exploited by people with nefarious purposes.”
If you lose your passport, notify the State Department immediately with a call to their 24-hour call center, then fill out a form as quickly as possible so the missing passport can be registered in the system.
However, travelers should be aware that once you’ve reported it lost, it’s gone.
“We revoke it,” Sprague said. “You can’t use it again for travel if you find it 24 hours later. If your purse is grabbed, especially overseas, you want to report it immediately to the local embassy. But if you go looking for your passport and after 20 minutes you can’t find it, take a deep cleansing breath and keep looking.”
If the passport is found after it’s been reported missing, the document is void. A new passport book will cost $110.
Passport Day on the Hill has become an annual affair. Over the past three or four years, the State Department has averaged 100 to 150 passports. In 2013, close to 200 passport applications were accepted.
For those who can’t make it to Thursday’s event, the State Department has Capitol Hill liaison offices. Services for the House are located in the Rayburn basement, while the Senate office can be found in the Russel basement. Both offices provide a full range of support services members and their staff with two full-time Foreign Service available to assist with questions related to visas and passports.