The Government Shutdown Ends - Now What, Travelers?
October 17, 2013
|Photo Courtesy: National Parks Service via NPCA|
The great American scholar Yogi Berra was once quoted as saying: “It ain’t over until it’s over.” As for right now – and the current situation we’re in – it’s temporarily over.
Wednesday night, both houses of Congress passed a bill that would restore Government spending and end the shutdown, which was signed into law late Wednesday night. The government shutdown is now officially over, the debt ceiling is vaulted, and Americans can go back into the business of doing business. But more important for travel, National Parks and Monuments are open once again. Museums and memorials once again welcome visitors. And all government functions pertinent to travelers are fully funded and back to operational status.
So now what happens to travel and travelers?
With all government buildings open, all passport processing centers – including those that offer same-day service – are back to operational function. While passport centers vowed to stay open and processing passport and Visa applications despite the government shutdown (as they are independently funded through passport service fees), many offices were affected by virtue of being located in a government building. With everything open, it’s back to business as usual for the State Department. While we don’t know how many passport applications have been affected by this shutdown, NPR reports that during the last government shutdown, 200,000 passport applications were affected.
How do you know if your passport application is affected? The State Department website has a self-service portal for application status on their website – simply plug in your last name, DOB, and last four digits of your Social Security number, and you’ll get an update on your passport application status. If that does not give you the answer you’re looking for, call the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778 for more information. You can also e-mail the State Department at [email protected], but it could take up to 24 hours to get your question answered.
During the government shutdown, many people had questions about the automated ESTA system (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) online and applying for a Visa to visit the United States. Because Customs and Border Protection was considered an “essential” function during the shutdown, ESTA should not have been affected for those eligible to use it: travelers who reside in the countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program. For those who live outside of nations participating in the Visa Waiver Program, you’ll still need to apply with your local American Consulate – who’se locations remained open during the government shutdown.
Although the National Parks are back in operation and open to the public, it could take some time for the locations – and their regions – to completely bounce back. The National Parks Conservation Association estimates that the economic impact of the shutdown could be as much as $480 Million. This deficit could mean a temporary downgrade in services available both around and your National Parks (depending on the site). For more information on services available at the National Park you plan to visit, start at the National Park Service website at www.nps.gov.
Now that the government shutdown has come to an end, we can only hope that another shutdown won’t happen for a long, long time. Were your travels affected by the government shutdown? Now that the shutdown has ended, are you looking forward to going on your trip? Let me know your feelings – relief or otherwise – in the comments below!