Been through airport immigration lately? Even if you are a US citizen you’re not immune from penetrating eyeballs, the fishing questions and the lengthy line treatment when coming into the country from abroad. It’s not supposed to be fun, but depending on the confluence of random factors, such as where you’ve been, what you look like and whether a foreign family of 14 is standing in front of you with documents asunder, the processing line can make the difference between catching a connecting flight or hanging in the airport all night.
But Homeland Security is on the case. Secretary Janet Napolitano announced last week that the remedy program for those lines is here to stay. Known as the U.S. Global Entry program, it’s now a permanent part of U.S. Customs (a pilot program has been in place since 2007). The program allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers to streamline the international arrivals and admission process at airports through biometric identification.
Global Entry—currently available at 20 U.S. international airports—allows pre-approved members to cut their U.S. Customs processing wait times by more than 70 percent, allowing approved travelers to clear customs in … Baddabing! …under five minutes.
The now permanent rule also liberalizes age eligibility criteria to allow more families to enjoy the benefits of the program. Persons under the age of 18 who meet the general eligibility criteria and have the consent of a parent or legal guardian will now be eligible to participate in Global Entry.
To apply, travelers head to https://goes-app.cbp.dhs.gov/ and fill out a rather lengthy (hey, it’s the U.S. government!) online document that wants to know where you have traveled in the past year, where you have lived in the past ten, your employment, your arrest record … well, you’ve got the picture.
The application takes some time and it cannot be corrected once it is submitted. And you will also have to fork over the non-refundable $100 fee – and that is BEFORE you are accepted. (Hey, it’s the U.S. Government!). But you can watch that charge disappear if you own an American Express Platinum card.
But chances are, barring any convictions for acts of terrorism or armed robbery in the past five years, you will be accepted and able to schedule an appointment with your local handy dandy Homeland Security officer. These guys can usually be found inhabiting an office in the international terminal of an airport near you.
The appointment gives the government officers a chance to look you over, chat about the weather in Denver and take fingerprints – all of them.
By the end of the appointment, following a lesson in fast kiosk transactions, you are good to go – for the next five years. On arrival in the U.S. simply look for the Global Entry kiosks somewhere on the perimeter of the immigration booths. Produce your U.S. passport and insert in the machine, punch a few buttons, proffer a thumbprint and grab the receipt.
Naturally you will be one of the first out for luggage collection so, unless you fly with carry-on only, you still have to wait, and wait for your bag. But you at least you won’t be doing your waiting on the other side of immigration.
The government provides a few other options for fast border passage:
Free and Secure Trade, or FAST, speeds up immigration and inspection between Canada and Mexico for those who do some heavy trading with those countries. NEXUS clears the way for U.S. citizens who frequently travel to Canada (Global Entry members get a $50 discount off the separate $100 fee charged for applying to NEXUS). And the Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection, or SENTRI, works magic for low-risk travelers driving between the U.S. and Mexico.
For frequent travelers, the service is like flying business class. If you don’t have it you feel bumped back to the rear bathroom rows in economy.
Boston-Logan International Airport (BOS)
Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport (DFW)
Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW)
Ft. Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport (FLL)
George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston (IAH)
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
Honolulu International Airport (HNL)
John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas (LAS)
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
Miami International Airport (MIA)
Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
Orlando International Airport (MCO)
Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
San Juan-Luis Múñoz Marin International Airport (SJU)
Orlando-Sanford International Airport (SFB)
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport-SeaTac (SEA)
Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD)
And soon ….
Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport (MSP)
Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)
Denver International Airport (DIA)
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
Global Entry currently has more than 327,000 members. Those members of the pilot program will not experience a break in membership and do not need to re-apply to the permanent program.
US Customs and Border Protection
(877) 227-5511/(703) 526-4200