Customs and Border Protection is sensing a return to international travel

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In a sign that the world is somehow getting back to normal, more people than ever are signing up for the various trusted traveler programs. For an update and how they’re dealing with the backlog of applications, we’re reaching out to Customs and Border Protection Operations Chief Carlo Cortina. He talks to Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Carlo Cortina: The numbers really skyrocketed. Interest in our Trusted Traveler programs. We have several different programs. So, to begin with, Global Entry, which is for any traveler, any US citizen or lawful permanent resident, and select foreign nationals traveling to the US from international destinations, by air, land or sea, have access to this program. Also, the benefit is that you can get TSA PreCheck. So when you’re leaving the US, you can also access TSA PreCheck. So that’s also the benefit of having Global Entry. Then you have the NEXUS program, which is entry into the US from Canada. The same goes for air, land and sea. Again, legal resident US citizens, Canadian citizens, Canadian permanent residents, and Mexican citizens are eligible to apply for the NEXUS program. The other program is the Sentri program, which is entry into the US from Canada and Mexico. This is primarily for US citizens, legal permanent residents and all foreign nationals but traveling by air and land only. So this one is not seaworthy. The latest trusted traveler program is FAST. This is for truckers entering and exiting the US from Canada and Mexico. U.S. citizens, legal residents, Canadian citizens, Canadian permanent residents, and Mexican citizens are all eligible. What we’ve seen in recent years, as you mentioned, was the growth of apps. Just recently, as of June 30th—this is the most current statistic I have—there are 795,000 Global Entry applicants who have completed through our enrollment-on-arrival program, which is another way you can finalize your application .

Tom Tam: Now do these 795,000 people have to come in person? Because I know when I originally got Global Entry years ago, you had to go to an in-person meeting at some point. What is the status of this? And do people still have to do this? And I imagine if they can’t for a period of time and COVID, you have to catch up.

Carlo Cortina: Correct. So as of July 1, we have 10.2 million people enrolled in the Trusted Traveler program. So far in fiscal year ’22, more than 2.7 million new Trusted Travel applicants have been accepted and more than 1.8 million members have been enrolled and renewed. So, as you mentioned, I have to go in person. So, before that, just to give you a little background, CBP has over 100 enrollment centers that process Trusted Traveler interviews. But with the high demand, as you mentioned, CBP moved to what’s called enrollment on arrival starting in July 2017. It provides, it’s a program that provides an alternative to scheduling and waiting for a Global Entry interview. Thus, conditionally approved Global Entry applicants arriving on international flights can now complete their Global Entry enrollment at a primary screening booth within the Federal Inspection Service area. And there are currently over 60 airports that have this capability. So, as you mentioned, you no longer need to visit a physical enrollment center. If you are already traveling and have received conditional approval, upon your return to the United States at one of the participating airports, you can say that I would like to complete my enrollment upon arrival today for my conditional Global Entry approval. And there will be a “Yes sir or madam. Go ahead and complete it” at the moment and you will be approved on the spot. You no longer need to go to an enrollment center.

Tom Tam: We speak with Carlo Cortina, Chief of Field Operations Branch at Customs and Border Protection. So if that’s been in place since 2017, then attendance wouldn’t have been affected by the pandemic that came in between, right?

Carlo Cortina: That’s a good point. And so there was a record number of check-in check-ins or check-in check-ins this past quarter alone, which is a significant development as international flights are still down from pre-Covid flight levels. In June alone, there were approximately 48,000 individuals enrolled, which is the most we have had from the program since the inception of walk-in enrollment. So this is a way for people to get their approvals and renewals while some of the enrollment centers were closed during the pandemic.

Tom Tam: And it’s probably a good way to pass the time at the airport while you’re waiting for your luggage anyway, assuming it’s not lost.

Carlo Cortina: It allows for additional processing and FIS, so it gives you some time to wait, yes.

Tom Tam: And if I recall the fingerprint was required by touching a pad during Global Entry. So this is happening at the airport now too, right?

Carlo Cortina: Correct. And that’s why the system works so well because enrollment on arrival, when you arrive, you’ve got the pads there, you’ve got the camera, you can fill out the biometric part of your application where you would otherwise have to wait for an open application time and schedule it to go to an enrollment centre. All of these same options are at all of our main booths upon your return to the United States.

Tom Tam: And it looks like you’ve done some back-end modernization of the whole system here. Because when someone renews Global Entry, you can just do that entirely online and the card will be mailed.

Carlo Cortina: Correct. This is the evolution of the program that has the ability to update this information and make the user manage this information that is given to us at renewal. So we simply improve the customer experience, while protecting and ensuring our national security is always at the forefront of all our innovations.

Tom Tam: And what do you see in the future? There must be some lessons learned that maybe you’ve been trying to implement here over the last five, six years, seeing how popular it is to do that at the airport and so on.

Carlo Cortina: Yes sir. So walk-in is a program that we push because when we have walk-in centers, there’s a fixed number of people that we can see each day based on how many booths we have. The great thing about this program is that you can travel to any one of these airports and they have anywhere from 20 to 60 to 80, depending on the airport you’re arriving at, cabins that can potentially approve and process you time. So now it works as a force multiplier. And like we said, it’s really heating up here, with last year having its best recording month in June. And it’s organic. So we’re pushing that, we’re working on a marketing campaign to make sure everyone knows that this program is available to you as part of the Global Entry and Trusted Traveler program.

Tom Tam: And just to be clear, though, you must start your application on your own computer before you leave, and only finish it when you return.

Carlo Cortina: Yes, so you must have conditional approval. So you need to go to the Trusted Traveler site before you travel, it is recommended a few weeks before you submit all your information, all your documentation to the Trusted Traveler site and get conditional approval before you travel. Once you get that conditional approval to enter the United States, you’ll just let the CBP officer know, hey, I’d like to finalize my dual entry application today.

Tom Tam: And by the way, the whole program is one that uses, which is also kind of a small part of the manual, isn’t it in the federal government?

Carlo Cortina: Yes sir. It is done through

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