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CBP Focused on Innovation, Clearing Backlogs as Trusted Traveler Programs’ Membership Nears 10 Million

Touchless technology pilot led to 94 percent faster processing than legacy kiosks: from 45 to 60 seconds with older machines to about 3.5 seconds.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Trusted Traveler Programs are expected to hit 3.5 million total applications for the fiscal year — “the most that we’ve ever received in one year,” said TTP Director Mike Millich.

Trusted Traveler Programs are “one way for U.S. to properly segment the populations for those travelers who are deemed to be low risk from our perspective,” Admissibility and Passenger Programs Executive Director Matthew Davies said a webinar hosted by CBP last week.

“They go through a screening process to ensure that they low risk and we have various safeguards in place throughout the program to make sure that we’re segmenting risk appropriately and using that risk assessment to properly facilitate and expedite travelers who are determined low risk who are part of our Trusted Traveler Programs,” he said.

The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted “in making this a more touchless process as well as being expedient.”

Trusted Traveler Programs include Global Entry, NEXUS, Sentri, and FAST. “TTP centers its investments and strategic vision around three guiding principles: innovation, traveler experience, and security,” Millich said.

NEXUS is a reserved-lane border partnership with the Canadian government with 1.6 million members, available at 12 land border locations and eight Canadian airports.

FAST program membership is specifically intended for a small subset of commercial truck drivers and utilizes FAST vehicle lanes to expedite processing at ports of entry.

Sentri expedites processing for members who are traveling by land into the U.S. and Canada from Canada and Mexico. Members have access to dedicated primary lanes to expedite their crossing and some locations have pedestrian lanes for members to expedite their trip back and cross into the U.S. Sentri is currently available at 13 land border ports of entry.

Global Entry is the largest trusted traveler program, with about 7.6 million members and available at 61 U.S. airports and 15 international preclearance locations. Full partnership agreements are in force with 13 countries, enabling their citizens to apply for Global Entry. Four more countries are currently participating in pilot programs that may move to full partnerships in the future. CBP also has reciprocal agreements whereby U.S. citizens can utilize Global Entry benefits if they’ve been granted reciprocal eligibility with Australia, Germany, New Zealand, Panama, South Korea and Taiwan.

“The programs are all comprised of low-risk, pre-vetted travelers who are entering the United States, but each program is unique in terms of its location or the mode of transportation that it covers,” Millich said. “Across all four of our programs, currently we have about 9.9 million members. We’re very excited about the fact that we expect that membership base to grow to 10,000,000 by the end of April.”

CBP launched remote interviews to allow certain qualified renewal applicants to complete their Global Entry interview virtually with a CBP officer using Zoom for Government. More than 40,000 remote interviews have been conducted, with expectations of even more growth. “We’ve done some additional training to get more officers and more locations online, so it’s a newer program, but it’s something that we think we can take advantage of and expand moving forward,” Millich said.

Enrollment on Arrival, in which conditionally approved applicants can conduct their enrollment interview with a CBP officer as they enter the U.S. from international locations, is currently available at 66 airports. The agency has completed 635,000 Enrollment on Arrival interviews since the program launched, including 100,000 this year.

“TTP continues to expand interview capabilities to better service applicants and address some of our backlogs in the most convenient manner that we can,” Millich said. “If an individual is conditionally approved and looking to schedule an interview, if it’s an option, we do strongly recommend considering the remote interview or enrollment upon arrival. And another tip that we can give is that it does help to check the TTP website often. Even if you go on one day, there may not be showing appointments, but we do get cancellations and we are sometimes able to add additional appointments. So, there’s a possibility that individuals might actually be able to move their appointment up.”

CBP is also focused on next-generation processing for Global Entry, with innovations streamlining and expediting the arrival experience and offering touch-free travel.

“Obviously, there’s a focus on reducing touch points. So, I think most travelers appreciate the opportunity to use technology that doesn’t require them to be touching the actual kiosk,” Millich said. “Thus far, we’ve updated approximately 80 percent of our kiosks across the country at our airports and we do expect that by the end of the year, for sure, we will have 100 percent of those kiosks updated.”

Travelers will see receiptless processing even at older kiosks updated with facial comparison technology. A touchless portal pilot was conducted at Los Angeles International Airport from September through January as “a further expansion of our pursuit of facial comparison technology.”

“We do plan to expand the initiative,” Millich noted. “It was very successful.”

That touchless technology led to 94 percent faster processing than legacy kiosks: 45 to 60 seconds with our older machines, and about 3.5 seconds with Global Entry touchless technology.

“Most people, we’ve had it said to us that they’re not even sure that it’s worked properly because it happens so fast,” he added. “It’s going to take a little bit of getting used to for them, but we certainly think that it’s going to be very much appreciated by the traveling public once we move forward with that technology.”

Asked about travelers complaining about application backlogs and an inability to find appointments, Millich said the agency understands the frustration yet initiatives such as Enrollment on Arrival and remote interviews for renewals are helping address the backlog as CBP considers how to allocate more resources to travel programs through avenues such as large-scale enrollment events that had to be put on hold at the height of the pandemic.

“We do have a large enrollment planned for the end of April for our FAST program, so we’re trying to look and explore those additional ways of using kind of the traditional ways that we’ve addressed our workload, but also utilizing things like Enrollment on Arrival and remote interviews to expand our capacity,” he added.

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, anti-Semitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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