By Marlana Ward
The Johnson County Circuit Court, Clerk’s office, is now able to accept United States Passport applications. This new certification means that Johnson County citizens can begin the process of obtaining their passport for international travel without having to find and drive to offices in other counties as required in the past. Staff within the Circuit Court Clerk’s office has gone through extensive training to achieve their status as an official site of application acceptance. “We had to pass a background check and be approved by the Department of State committee before we could even begin training and again after each receiving our certificates of training,” Circuit Court Clerk Melissa Hollaway explained.
Hollaway emphasized that after approval the second time, the court clerks office received our facility training designation certificate and identification number, as well as becoming certified passport agents with individual agent identification numbers.“Each of us took an in-depth 12-course online training class with that courses included an intensive focus on security and fraud detection,” she said. “We also went to a passport training class at ETSU which provided hands-on training where we learned how to put the application together and in what order documents go in and how to handle applicants original documents to ensure everything is in order when the processing center gets the application. We are also required to have re-certification training every year.”
The ability to help residents gain their passports has been a goal for Hollaway because she realized how it could benefit the local population. “My office has always received phone calls asking about passports, and sadly we didn’t offer this service,” Hollaway said. “Upon inquiring about this service, the State Department informed me we were required to have a secure email domain. I contacted County Mayor Larry Potter and Purchasing Agent Dustin Shearin and asked about getting a secure email domain. They have been working on getting ungraded phone lines and internet, and when that was finally completed, the email domain was included which allowed me to continue the process of getting approval from the State Department to become a passport acceptance facility.”
All staff in the office is capable and eager to help residents begin the passport process. “We are very excited to be able to offer our friendly individualized approach to help citizens understand what is needed to obtain and update a passport,” Hollaway said. “My staff and I voluntary took the online classes on our on time to not take away from the public during regular office hours.
Making the application process as stress-free and convenient as possible is very important to the staff of the Circuit Court Clerk’s office.
“Our newly established passport facility will offer a community service where convenience is key,” Hollaway said. “My staff and I will take the time to help folks understand the procedure and guide them through the process of obtaining a passport book and card. We also help provide peace of mind and security because passport applications contain private information and my staff and I will use the resources we already have to handle sensitive information. We are equipped with the means necessary to keep applicants personal information protected and secured. Applications will be mailed daily with tracking numbers, and we will keep track of those applications to ensure they are received at the regional processing center within seven business days.
Not only will the service provide convenience to county citizens, but it will also provide funds to the county. “This service will also generate much-needed revenue for Johnson County as an execution fee of $35 per applicant is required in addition to the fees required by the Department of State,” explained Hollaway. “This money will go into the county general fund and be used wherever necessary as determined by county budget officials.”
Fees for a United States Passport varies depending on age and the type of passport. An Adult Passport Card will cost $65 for a first-time applicant while a Passport Book will cost $145 for the same applicant. The significant difference between the two passport types is that for travel by air, a U.S. Passport Book is required. According to documents from the State Department’s website, the passport cards are only valid when entering the US from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda at land border crossings or sea ports-of-entry.
Those who are considering applying for a passport should do so well ahead of a scheduled trip as it does take a few weeks for an application to be processed and approved. “Allow at least six weeks to get your passport,” Hollaway explained. “My office acquires the necessary documents from applicants and assembles the application. From here it goes to a lockbox facility, next on to processing, then sent to the passport facility for approval. From there, the information goes to the printing center and then the completed passport is mailed directly back to the applicant.”
Since it is the first time service such service is offered by the office, Hollaway recognizes that it may take a little extra time the staff works through all the procedures. “This is something new to us as well. My approach with my staff is that we will all learn together. It may take a little longer at first to get the hang of it, but we look forward to helping Johnson County grow and expand,” she expressed.
For those who are concerned about how long the application process may take, contacting the Circuit Court Clerk’s office ahead of time or visiting the office in the afternoon may help cut down on time spent waiting. “The Department of State recommends allowing approximately 30 minutes to complete the application process maybe longer if multiple applications are being done per customer,” advises Hollaway. “Appointment times are not necessary as we have five passport agents trained to help, but you may schedule an appointment at your convenience. We do follow a rigorous court schedule with four courts and five judges. We also close for lunch from 12 pm to 1 pm. Afternoons have usually settled down in the court system allowing for less crowding in our tiny office.”
Those wishing to learn more about the application process are encouraged to call the Circuit Court Clerk’s office at 727-9012. “We have a new, automated phone system that allows the public to choose an option to be connected to different departments. The passport option is not available yet but will be very soon. When you call, you may press any of the options 3-7 to get any passport questions answered.” Forms, information on required documentation, fees, and other relevant information regarding international travel can also be found at the State Department’s official website, www.travel.state.gov.