Some travelers looking to speed up their international security screening are running into roadblocks. And according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a surge in immigration and the government shutdown at the beginning of the year are responsible.
“The extended partial government shutdown and the ongoing humanitarian and security crisis on our southern border has resulted in a substantial backlog of CBP’s Trusted Traveler Programs applications and renewals,” the agency says on its website.
In an email, a spokesperson said that because more Customs and Border Protection workers have been sent to the southern border, the agency has reduced staffing levels at Global Entry enrollment centers, forcing “many” scheduled interviews to be canceled.
At Los Angeles International Airport, the enrollment center has been closed indefinitely, the agency confirmed to the Los Angeles Times this month.
Anyone applying for expedited border programs including Global Entry, the most popular, “should expect significant delays in application processing times and limited appointment availability” at enrollment centers, the website said.
According to the site, it could take up to 100 days for Global Entry applications to be processed, though the CBP spokesperson said in an email this week that between 65 and 70 percent of applications and renewals are being processed in 15 or fewer days. About 25 percent of applications have a processing time of more than 90 days. The agency said anyone who needs to reschedule an appointment should expect availability to be limited through Sept. 30.
Jim Butler, an attorney who lives in Beverly Hills, Calif., was supposed to have an appointment in Los Angeles in May to renew his membership but got a notice that it had been canceled and no new appointment would be available for several months because of the situation at the border.
“They say if you have any questions, call this number,” Butler says. “You leave a message, and they say, ‘We may get back to you in two weeks.’ They never did.”
When he tried to reschedule, he learned about the closing of the enrollment center in Los Angeles. Eventually, he was able to make an appointment for August in Long Beach.
Global Entry lets travelers skip long immigration lines when returning to the country, but joining the program requires an application, background check, fingerprint scan and in-person interview. The program costs $100 for five years and includes TSA PreCheck, which lets travelers go through quicker security screening in U.S. airports.
Other “trusted traveler” programs include Sentri, for quicker access to the United States by air and land from Mexico; Nexus, for access from Canada by air, land and sea; and Fast, for truck drivers entering and leaving the States from Canada and Mexico. Global Entry has the most members, with 6.5 million.
Because TSA PreCheck is a benefit of Global Entry, travelers who care about that benefit the most — and have no immediate plans to travel outside the country — might want to apply directly for that program, CBP said. It costs $85 for five years.
“PreCheck is not having any of the same issues that CBP is,” says Jenny Burke, a Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman said. She said the amount of time it typically takes for the entire process — applying, completing the process at an enrollment office and getting a Known Traveler Number — is five to seven days.
Enrollment centers are available at airports as well as other locations, including some Staples stores. That’s because TSA has a contract with an outside company to facilitate enrollment.
So for someone who only travels domestically — or wants to make sure they can use the fast lanes at U.S. airports as they wait for Global Entry, “PreCheck is a really good option,” Burke says. “It does take less time in general for it to come through.”
The downside, she says, is that you can’t use your PreCheck enrollment to later get Global Entry. And paying for both is largely a waste of money.
Customs and Border Protection also said that travelers who have started the application process already and been conditionally approved — meaning they just need the in-person interview to wrap up — can get that interview taken care of when they arrive to the United States on an international flight. They must be at one of the 50 airports with an “enrollment on arrival” program.
“You’ll still have to wait in line, which you were going to have to do anyway,” Shannon McMahon, an editor at online travel magazine SmarterTravel.com, said in an email. But that option “saves you a trip back to the airport to complete your interview.”
Some enrollment centers at airports also accept walk-ins, but she suggested calling in advance to make sure and for the best strategy on when to show up.
McMahon said travelers looking to get back into the country faster have another option if Global Entry isn’t in the cards.
“One great alternative to any paid expedited screening is the free Mobile Passport app, which works at 26 major airports,” she says. “All users have to do is pull up the app when they arrive at the participating airport, input the usual answers to a few customs questions, snap a selfie and submit the form.”
Travelers can then waltz past lines to the signs for Mobile Passport — which, McMahon says, is usually paired up with the line for Global Entry.