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Don't necessarily expect shorter waits in applying for Global Entry and other 'trusted traveler' programs

March 25, 2022
6 min read
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Due to closures of varying degrees throughout the pandemic, applicants for "trusted traveler" programs, in addition to passport renewals, have reported experiencing inconsistent wait times.

Just four days ago, TPG confirmed that although wait times for passport renewals have improved from 2021, the average wait time for standard renewals is between eight and 11 weeks, which is more than my seven-week saga in June 2021. Both of these are compared to the six-to-eight-week time frame for renewals before COVID-19.

I reported earlier this year that the backlog of Global Entry applicants appeared to be fading after delays in processing applications for both new applicants and renewals had become routine.

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Despite being two of the lesser-known programs, many Nexus and Sentri centers have remained closed for most of the pandemic due to their locations at the northern and southern borders, respectively, further constrained by the health protocols of Canada and Mexico.

Earlier this week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection provided an update on the current status of these three programs and tips for readers on applying.

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Enrollment increased during the pandemic

Passengers line up for a security check at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, on Feb. 19, 2022. (Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images)

Despite the disrupted travel during 2020-2021, membership in trusted traveler programs as a whole grew to 9.9 million members, with enrollment expected to reach 10 million by the end of this month, according to a press briefing on March 23.

In fact, CBP processed 3.5 million total applications for fiscal year 2021, the most it's ever received in one year, according to Michael Millich, director of the trusted traveler programs.

Of the roughly 10 million members overall, a majority of those, nearly 8 million, are Global Entry members. Global Entry helps expedite U.S. entry after traveling abroad, and is currently available for use in 16 domestic airports and 15 international locations.

Outside of American enrollment, Global Entry is also available for U.S. residents and citizens of 13 countries offering reciprocal benefits, including Argentina, the United Kingdom, Panama, Switzerland and South Korea, with an additional four countries currently participating in pilot programs.

Nexus is a program that helps Americans and Canadians cross the U.S.-Canada border via Nexus-only lanes at the northern border and when entering Canada by air. It also includes access to Global Entry kiosks when arriving via certain Canadian Preclearance airports. The program currently has 1.6 million users across 12 land borders and eight Canadian airports.

Sentri, which you can think of as the Mexican counterpart to Nexus, affords travelers expedited passage into the U.S. from Canada and Mexico via Sentri-specific lanes. It also grants access to TSA PreCheck lanes at airports within the U.S. and overseas territories at 13 land borders.

Overall, "enrollment centers were closed for approximately five months," according to Millich, who noted that Nexus centers have remained closed for most of the past two years due to Candian entry protocols that were only recently loosened.

CBP expects Nexus enrollment centers to reopen in April.

Despite closures, CBP began conducting remote interviews via Zoom, more than 40,000 thus far. Remote interview capability is only expected to increase as the agency invests in training new officers to potentially work through existing renewal applications.

Read more: Answering your questions about TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and Clear

Technological response to the backlog

(Screenshot from U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

CBP says it continues to invest in "enhancing the member experience by deploying innovative facial comparison capabilities across the country through both existing technology upgrades and cutting-edge technology pilots," for Global Entry. This includes upgrading existing facial kiosks and touchless kiosks with facial comparison capabilities.

Although the current facial kiosks have an 85% faster processing time compared to legacy kiosks, touchless facial kiosks aim to be 94% faster for users. This could lead to an experience time totaling just 3.5 seconds for users, down from the current 9-second processing time for travelers to reenter the country from abroad.

The agency aims to update 100% of its legacy kiosks by the end of 2022, while also piloting a receiptless processing system and further deploying touchless portals following a pilot at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

Related: Round 2: Answering more questions about TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and Clear

Tips for applicants

(Screenshot from U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

Although you may be able to secure an in-person interview at trusted traveler enrollment centers, CBP still recommends travelers interview remotely if possible to satisfy the interview portion of the application process, which is generally required with some exceptions for conditionally approved applicants.

A second option for Global Entry applicants specifically is to partake in "Enrollment on Arrival." This means you can complete your interview as part of the immigration and customs process when traveling abroad at 66 airports, where they've conducted 635,000 interviews in total.

"This is an alternative for international travelers, conditionally approved, as they enter the U.S. from international locations," said Millich. "Good option for foreign nationals of partner countries, too."

Although the agency plans to "continue to expand interview capabilities to address some of our backlogs," Millich said he strongly recommends applicants consider doing a remote interview or enrolling on arrival.

"It does help to check the TTP website daily as we do get cancellations, and can sometimes add appointments," he said.

Read more: Round 3: Answering more questions about TSA PreCheck and Global Entry

Bottom line

"We are constantly looking at how we can better allocate our resources for those interviews, and looking at how we can expand large-scale enrollment events," according to Millich.

Currently, applications as a whole are taking an average of 16 days to be conditionally approved, followed by another 90 days to facilitate scheduling an interview. So, be sure to factor that in for planning purposes.

While delays in travel are inevitably frustrating as the travel surge continues, bear in mind that CBP has heard travelers' complaints and is attempting to improve the user experience.

Related: Backlog of Global Entry applicants appears to be fading

Featured image by Katherine Frey/Washington Post/Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

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  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases