One of the U.S.’s temporary pandemic measures allowed some citizens to return to the country even with expired passports. The policy has now been extended through March 2022.
According to the U.S. State Department, the policy is necessary because of the unavoidable roadblocks that far-flung citizens are facing when they wish to renew their passports.
Many U.S. embassies are understaffed or closed because of the pandemic, making passport renewal difficult or impossible for some people. Thousands of citizens with expired passports are stuck outside the country.
Though the extended policy will allow many Americans to return, it won’t help everyone. Only some U.S. citizens qualify.
To be eligible, a person’s passport must have expired during the pandemic — not earlier. In the context of expired passports, the U.S. State Department defines the pandemic’s beginning as Jan. 1, 2020.
Even qualified expired passports are only helpful for return to the U.S. They may not be used for travel to any other country.
However, citizens can use them for indirect flights to the U.S. as long as layovers in other nations are too brief for travelers to leave the connecting airports.
There are several other eligibility requirements for expired passports. They cannot be damaged or modified, and they must be in the possession of their owners.
Passports acquired when citizens were under age 15 are only acceptable if they were valid for five years before expiring. For people who got their passports while older than 15, the documents are only acceptable if they were valid for 10 years.
Regardless of passport validity, U.S. citizens must offer negative results from a COVID-19 test before heading back to the country.
COVID-19 case rates worldwide have spiked dramatically since the omicron variant was discovered in late November.
At the time, new daily cases throughout the world hovered around 570,000. As of late December, that number has jumped to over 1 million.