The US State Department on Wednesday evening temporarily suspended an online booking system used for urgent appointments because of bots, according to an update posted to its consular affairs website.
“At 10 p.m. ET on Wednesday, July 21, we temporarily disabled the online booking system for Urgent Travel Service to ensure our very limited appointments go to applicants who need them for urgent travel,” the update said.
“We are making this change to address the problem of third parties booking appointments online using automated programs, or bots, and then selling these appointments to customers with urgent travel needs. We are not affiliated with any third-party appointment booking services, and we do not charge a fee to make an appointment,” the update noted. “Third parties booked all available appointments within minutes of the appointments being posted online which prevented many of you from making urgent appointments, and made it difficult to determine whether your appointment was legitimate or fraudulent.”
The State Department said it would honor appointments made online prior to 10 p.m. ET on Wednesday, but now individuals must call to book or change an appointment.
The temporary suspension of the online booking system is another obstacle for an agency already facing enormous backlogs on passport issuances. As CNN reported last week, American travelers who do not currently have valid US passports may not be able to travel overseas this summer due to extensive wait times as the State Department deals with a backlog of more than a million applications caused largely by the coronavirus pandemic.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called on the State Department to provide answers on their attempts to address the backlog and lengthy wait times.