The Passport Office continues to outperform its previously busiest year, 2019, by more than 20%. More than 623,000 passports have been issued to date in 2022. This is 105,000 more passports than were issued at this point of the last most busy year which was 2019. The processing time for first-time applications is now 25 working days, down from 40 working days in March. In the space of three months, processing time for first-time applications has been reduced by almost 40%. This is a substantial reduction in processing time, particularly in light of the significant increase in the number of applications we have seen this year.
My Department has been proactively planning for this increase in demand for many months and has made an unprecedented investment in staffing and resources to meet the demand. A major recruitment drive has been under way since last year. The Passport Office recently ran its own recruitment competition for temporary clerical officers. The Department has also been working with the HSE to provide opportunities to contact tracing staff to transfer to the Passport Office to man the telephones. This recruitment effort will bring staffing numbers at the Passport Office to more than 900. It was 460 this time last year.
Over the past number of weeks, the passport service has worked with An Garda Síochána to develop a system for verifying Garda witnesses on passport applications in cases where the Garda signature cannot be verified. This new system assists in reducing the number of applications that are delayed due to a failure to verify witness details. The urgent appointment service continues to operate successfully in Cork, Dublin and London. Additional staff have been added to the public-facing areas to deal with pressure during the summer months.
Intensive training of new staff and upskilling of existing staff has been under way for several months to increase the resources that can process complex applications, such as first-time child applications. Passport service staff are working overtime, with a focus on prioritising first-time applications. This strategy has seen real benefits with the processing time, as I have pointed out, reduced by about 40%. There is a huge level of demand but we are responding to it.
I have talked privately with Deputy Brady about a number of cases where we have tried to offer assistance.