“So, wait… I need a passport to study abroad?”
Believe it or not, I have been on the receiving end of such a question. When you couple this with a backlogged Spanish consulate, you can imagine how hard it might be to retain a calm and cool demeanor that we administrators try to possess when advising our students.
It should be fairly easy, then, to see why an on-site passport office was a wonderful project I was able to implement on my campus. After managing a Passport Acceptance Facility for a year-and-a-half, I am happy to report that it has been a smart initiative, not only for our department, but for our campus at large.
One would think that given the intense focus on globalization, people would understand the need for a passport, however, only one out of three Americans has a passport. For institutions that articulate internationalization as a part of their strategic plan, a campus passport office sends a strong message about their seriousness in promoting international experiences of students, faculty, and staff.
Here are questions your institution should ask before starting this initiative, benefits of and how to start the process of setting up your very own Passport Acceptance Facility.
Is a passport office appropriate for your campus?
- First, consider whether or not your campus has a community that could support having an acceptance facility. The U.S. Department of State, which designates passport acceptance facilities, does not want to have an over saturation of facilities in close proximity to one another. The good thing about institutions of higher education is that, because of their size, they tend to be able to justify operating such an office. It should also be noted, though, that your facility would have to be open to the general public as well.
- Next, think about whether or not you have the resources to staff the office. You can set whatever hours you desire and even be ‘by appointment only,’ however, whatever hours you set, you must adhere to since they will be published on the Department of State’s website. This means no closing down the office because someone calls in sick.
- Speaking of passport agents, not everyone can be one! There are strict requirements set forth by the Department of State. As an example, agents must be U.S. citizens and they must be permanent employees of the institution. Furthermore, there must be someone willing to be designated the Passport Acceptance Facility manager to oversee a facility’s agents.
What are the benefits of being designated a Passport Acceptance Facility?
- During this time of economic recession, institutions are constantly tasked with finding new endeavors that offer steady streams of income. Passport acceptance facilities charge fees as determined by the Department of State and they are responsible for picking up the tab on the postage for shipping any applications that are not paid for as ‘expedited’ by the customer. Consequently, a facility nets just under $25 per application—however, there are tangential revenue opportunities such as on-site photo services. There are no regulations with determining the price point of photos if your facility decides to purchase a passport photo system. This, coupled with the use of the photo system for other purposes (International Student ID cards anyone?), are the real lucrative aspects of a passport facility.
- Increased traffic to your department! We have been very happy with the natural byproduct of having a passport office lodged within our study abroad office. Since we must be open to the general public, every client represents another person with whom we can talk about our programs and share the exciting work we are doing as international educators. Additionally, time-starved students, faculty, and staff greatly appreciate the service being available on campus and community members continually report that we are more friendly and efficient than post office passport agencies.
- Gain insider knowledge about the passport application process and Department of State. This has been an immense help, especially since I serve the role as immigration specialist for my department. The knowledge I have gained in learning the complete process to obtain a passport, as well as the contacts I have made at the Department of State, have given me more expertise in other parts of my job.
- As a bonus perk, we’ve even been fortunate enough to have Department of State representatives attend our study abroad fairs and pre-departure sessions to share valuable information about preparing for a trip abroad, safety, and registering their trips with the Department’s S.T.E.P. program.
So, you may be thinking that this all sounds great! Here is how you can become designated as a Passport Acceptance Facility:
The first step in the process is by writing a letter (via snail mail) to your regional passport agency. You can determine which agency is the appropriate one to contact by consulting the list here.
The letter should indicate your request for consideration to become designated a passport acceptance facility. It would also be helpful to include pertinent statistics to support your request such as your student body population, number of faculty and staff, and even the number of students the institution sends abroad.
Once you hear back from the regional passport agency, you’ll receive a lot of information about the specific requirements. This will help you in preparing what your facility space will look like; but you will undoubtedly need good internal controls and considerations for privacy. Training of agents is handled by an eight hour web-based course with in-person training offered throughout the year in some regions. You will be provided with all of the necessary passport forms at no cost.
The most confusing part of the process was figuring out how to get the shipping process down since passport applications must be mailed out each day. Some institutions may be able to work it into their internal mail procedures, but the United States Postal Service (with which all applicants MUST be shipped) has many options that may be pursued.
So, now you have the knowledge about what a passport office can bring to your institution! Let’s get out there and advocate for every American to have a passport!
About the Author: Kyle Rausch works for Florida State University International Programs where he serves as Immigration Specialist and the Passport Acceptance Facility Manager. In addition to his immigration duties, Kyle enjoys leading FSU’s summer Paris programs and coordinating other study abroad programs for Florida State, while finishing his M.S. in Higher Ed. Administration.