Customs and Border Protection feels the return to international travel

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One sign that the world is sort of 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 an applications backlog, we turn to Customs and Border Protection Field Operations Branch Chief Carlo Cortina. He spoke with the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview...

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Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

One sign that the world is sort of 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 an applications backlog, we turn to Customs and Border Protection Field Operations Branch Chief Carlo Cortina. He spoke with the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview transcript:

Carlo Cortina: The numbers have really skyrocketed. The interest in our Trusted Traveler programs. We have several different programs. So to begin with, Global Entry, which is for anyone traveling, any U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, and select foreign nationals traveling into the U.S. from international destinations, either by air, land or sea, access into that program. Also, the benefit is that you’re able to get TSA PreCheck. So when you’re departing the U.S., you’re able to obtain access into TSA PreCheck as well. So that’s the benefit of having Global Entry as well. Then you have the NEXUS program, which is entry into the U.S. from Canada. The same is for by air, land and sea. Again, U.S. citizens lawful permanent residents, Canadian citizens, Canadian permanent residents and Mexican nationals are eligible to apply for the NEXUS program. The other program is the Sentri program, which is entry into the U.S. from Canada and Mexico. This is primarily for U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and all foreign nationals, but traveling by air and land only. So this one is ineligible for sea. The last trusted traveler program is FAST. It’s for truck drivers entering and exiting the U.S. from Canada and Mexico. The same U.S. citizens are eligible, lawful permanent residents, Canadian citizens, Canadian permanent residents and Mexican nationals. What we’ve seen in the recent years, as you mentioned, was the uptick in applications. Just in the last, as of June 30 – this is the most updated stats I have – there’s been 795,000 Global Entry applicants that have been completed through our enrollment on arrival program, which is another way that you could finalize your application.

Tom Temin: Now these 795,000, do people have to come in person? Because I know when I originally got Global Entry years ago, you had to go at some point to a in-person meeting. What has been the status of that? And do people still need to do that? And I imagine if they could not for a period of time and COVID, you’ve got some catching up to do.

Carlo Cortina: Correct. So as of July 1, we have 10.2 million individuals enrolled in a Trusted Traveler program. So far during fiscal year ’22, over 2.7 million new Trusted Travel applicants have been received, and over 1.8 million members have been enrolled and renewed. So like you were mentioning, having to go in person. So before, just to give you some background, CBP has over 100 enrollment centers to process Trusted Traveler interviews. But with the high demand, as you mentioned, CBP has pivoted to what is called as enrollment on arrival, beginning in July 2017. It provides, it’s a program that provides an alternative to scheduling and waiting for a Global Entry interview. So conditionally approved Global Entry applicants arriving on international flights can now complete their Global Entry enrollment at a primary inspection booth within the Federal Inspection Service Area. And currently, it’s over 60 airports right now that have that capability. So as you mentioned, you no longer have to go to a physical brick and mortar Enrollment Center. If you’re already traveling, and you’ve obtained a conditional approval, upon your return to the United States at one of the participating airports, you can say I’d like to complete my enrollment on arrival today for my conditional approval for Global Entry. And there’ll be a “Yes, sir or ma’am. Go ahead and go complete it” at the moment and you’ll be approved on the spot. You no longer have to go to an Enrollment Center.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Carlo Cortina, branch chief for Field Operations at Customs and Border Protection. So if this has been in place since 2017, then the in-person enrollment would not have been affected by the pandemic that intervened in between, right?

Carlo Cortina: That’s a good point. And so there have been a record number of enrollments via the entry on arrival or enrollment on arrival in just this past quarter, which is a significant event because international flights are still down compared to pre-COVID flight levels. Just in June, there were approximately 48,000 individuals enrolled, which is the most we’ve had since the program, since the creation of enrollment on arrival. So this has been a way for persons to still obtain their approvals and the renewals while some of the enrollment centers were closed during the pandemic.

Tom Temin: And it’s probably a good way to spend your time in the airport while you’re waiting for your luggage anyway, presuming it wasn’t lost.

Carlo Cortina: It does allow for further processing and FIS so it does give you some time to wait around, yes.

Tom Temin: And if I recall fingerprinting was required by touching a pad during Global Entry. So this happens then now at the airport also, correct?

Carlo Cortina: Correct. And that’s why the system works so well, because enrollment on arrival, when you’re arriving, you have the pads there, you have the camera, you’re able to complete the biometrics portion of your application where otherwise you would have had to wait for an open application time and schedule it to go to an Enrollment Center. All of those same capabilities are at all of our primary booths upon your return to the United States.

Tom Temin: And it looks like you’ve done some modernizing on the back end of the whole system here. Because when someone renews Global Entry, you can just do that totally online and the card comes in the mail.

Carlo Cortina: Correct. That’s been the evolution of the program, having the ability to update that information and have the user drive that information that’s given to us upon renewing. So it’s been just enhancing the customer experience, while securing and ensuring our national security is always at the forefront of all of our innovation.

Tom Temin: And what are you looking at in the future? There must be some lessons learned you’re trying to maybe inculcate here over the past five, six years, seeing how much popularity there is for doing this at the airport, and so on.

Carlo Cortina: Yes, sir. So there’s enrollment on arrival is a program that we’re pushing because when we have enrollment centers, there’s a fixed amount of persons we could see any given day based on how many booths we have. The greatness of this program is that you can travel into any one of these airports, and they have anywhere from 20 to 60 to 80, depending on what airport you arrive to, booths that can potentially approve you and process you at that time. So now it’s working as a force multiplier. And like we said, it’s really catching fire here, with having the best record month last year in June. And that’s been organic. So we are pushing that, we are working on a marketing campaign to ensure that everybody knows that this program is available to you as part of a Global Entry and Trusted Traveler program.

Tom Temin: And just to be clear, though, you need to begin your application from your own PC before you go and only complete it when you come back.

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

Tom Temin: And by the way, the whole program is one that uses Login.gov, which is kind of a little piece of leadership too, isn’t it across the federal government?

Carlo Cortina: Yes, sir. It is through the Login.gov.

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