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Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Passport Profiles: San Francisco Passport Agency

"Travel is an education.  You can't understand how it feels to be in a foreign country unless you are there.  No books can teach you that."
~Michael Silva, San Francisco Passport Agency

Michael Silva, Customer Service Manager & Angela R. Jenkins, Adjudication Supervisor
San Francisco Passport Agency

Mike's World Map
Michael Silva is an interesting guy.  He has worked for the San Francisco Passport Agency since January 6, 1969 (he remembered the exact date!); first as a Passport Examiner and now 40 years later as the Customer Service Manager.  In his office taking up a significant portion of the wall is a world map that chronicles all of the different places he has traveled; each location represented with different colored dots that represent what year he was there.  His first trip abroad was to Greece and he got his first passport in 1971, two years after he started working at the agency.  His top two favorite destinations are Istanbul and Rio because "they are both so scenic and picturesque."  This guy is a walking-talking travel historian of sorts and it was a pleasure to sit down and chat with him, my very own Mr. Passport.  =)

I got a chance to meet Mike because I was one of a number of bloggers nationwide invited by the US Bureau of Consular Affairs office in Washington DC to visit my local passport office on Passport Day in the USA, a day when the general public is invited to apply for or renew a passport on a Saturday, a day when passport offices are never open and without an appointment. It was close to 2pm when I arrived and there was still a flurry of activity going on with just about an hour left before the office closed at 3pm.  I took the elevator to the 5th floor, went through security and checked in at the information booth to see Mike.  Like everyone else that showed up that day, I received a passport factoid & game book (which I will definitely try to make use of at Passport Parties), a cute little faux passport and a refrigerator magnet.  (I also got tapped on the shoulder by security while I Foursquared my location.  You can't take photos in a government building, he scolded.  And no, I didn't see the signs.) 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Passport Day in the USA
I spent about an hour or so with Mike asking questions and getting answers, some of which I was surprised to hear. 

1.  First, this particular office San Franciso office (located at 95 Hawthorne Boulevard) is for expedited passports only and is not open to walk-ins who are applying for a passport and in no particular hurry to get one.  You can go to the local post office or apply online for that.  But if you need your passport in two weeks or less, you simply call in to the National Passport Center and make an appointment for expedited processing.  With the right documentation and $60, you can walk away with your passport on the very same day.  Mike told me that San Francisco typically processes about 150-200 expedited passports per day.
Where the magic happens.
San Francisco Passport Agency

2.  Passport applications do not come in Spanish.   Bummer.  There is however a two-parent consent handout that explains passport requirements in Spanish.  This was actually my very first question since many of the girls' who participate in The Passport Party Project have Spanish-speaking parents.  To be honest, I was a little disappointed.
    3.  A little over 300 passport applications were processed during Passport Day in the USA at the San Francisco Passport Office with about 50 denials. 
    4.  The staff is multicultural and multilingual with 25 Passport Specialists in the San Francisco office.  Love that.
    Part of the team of Passport Specialists working on a Saturday.
    San Francisco Passport Agency
    Anju Shrestha, Passport Specialist
    San Francisco Passport Agency
    5.  Mike took me on a tour of the office, but you can't really take that many photos inside government buildings.  I really wanted to take a photo of the mini-passport museum that was in a small case in the training room.  It showed the evolution of passports and what they used to look like, but my trusty travel historian Mike suggested I go to to check out some old celebrity passports.

All in all, it was an interesting day.  I didn't get to see EXACTLY how passports are made, but I was able to see how this efficient operation runs and meet some very nice people.  I did, however, find this YouTube video that explains the passport making process in detail.


I appreciate the invite from the Consular's Office and am looking forward to hearing about what went on at Passport Offices in other parts of the nation from bloggers like @WorldTravelMom (in DC), @TheTINYJewelBox (in Miami), @brianepeters (in New York), and a bunch more I haven't heard from yet! 
Afterwards, and with all of this new information, you can just start calling me Ms. Passport (if you haven't already).  ;-)