printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Know Before You Go: U.S. Customs and Border Protection Travel Tips for the 2012 Summer

John Wagner, Executive Director of U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Office of Field Operations, Admissibility and Passenger Programs
Washington, DC
June 7, 2012




State Dept Image/Jun 07, 2012/Washington, DC
Date: 06/07/2012 Location: Washington, DC Description: John Wagner, Executive Director of U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Office of Field Operations, Admissibility and Passenger Programs, briefs at the Washington FPC on ''Know Before You Go: U.S. Customs and Border Protection Travel Tips for the 2012 Summer Travel Season.'' - State Dept Image

10:00 A.M. EDT
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.

MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for coming this morning to our briefing. Today we have Mr. John Wagner, who is the Executive Director of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Field Operations, Admissibility and Passenger Programs. He’s going to give us some tips today about “Know Before you Go.” And without further ado, I will turn it over to him. Thank you.

MR. WAGNER: Hi. Good morning. I’m John Wagner, the Executive Director of Admissibility and Passenger Programs with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and thank you for joining me this morning to talk about some travel tips and some of our latest innovations I can talk about how we’re trying to make the arrivals process more welcoming, more understood, and more efficient in how it operates.

But just to talk about the summer travel time, every year we like to come out right before the peak travel season. Of course, summer is our busiest time of year for international travel. Good news is, we’ve seen increases in travel of about 9 percent over the last year or two. So things are trending in the right directions, and we’re doing our best to keep up with the pace of travel and make sure we’ve got the right resources and the right programs in place to address these increases in travel.

But just as far as travel tips and reminders, first and foremost, remind everyone of the document requirements. Everyone coming in by air, more or less, needs to have a passport and a visa or an ESTA, if that’s applicable. And we’ll talk a little bit about the ESTA program in a minute for travelers from Visa Waiver Program countries. And if crossing the border by land under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, we just want to remind all travelers if you’re 16 years or older, you have to have one of the approved travel documents. And that’s a passport, a passport card, a trusted traveler card – which I’ll talk about in a few minutes also – of course a permanent resident card, a border crossing card, or an enhanced drivers license if your state issues one of those. And if you’re 16 years or under, you may still present a birth certificate or other type of citizenship and identity documents.

As far as the ESTA program goes, this is a requirement for travelers under the Visa Waiver Program. It’s online application, takes a couple minutes to fill out and really only takes a few minutes to get approved. There is a $14 fee associated with that. We’ve issued about 45 million ESTA approvals to date. Less than one half of 1 percent get denied based on the background process of what we go through. The fee – part of the fee helps us defray the costs of running the system and then $10 of that fee also goes to support the Corporation for Travel Promotion, also now known as Brand USA, who’s out marketing the United States as a travel and tourism destination. And we’re doing a lot of close work with them to make sure our requirements are out there and understood. And we can make the best process we can and encourage people to visit and work and study in the United States.

I mentioned earlier the trusted traveler programs. We have the NEXUS and SENTRI programs for travel within North America at the land borders. And then NEXUS also has a component for air travel between the U.S. and Canada. And then we also have the Global Entry Program, which is for travel outside of that area by air when returning to the United States.

We’ve got about 1.3 million people now enrolled and approved as trusted travelers. The process is the same for each one of the programs. You go online to our website. You can go to globalentry.gov and link to the application process right there for all the programs, or you can find it on cBp.gov under the trusted traveler page. You fill out a short application online with your basic biographical information, some residence history, some employment history, some travel history. If it comes to us – you also pay the fee online through that same process. There’s a small fee associated with each one of the programs.

The information comes to us electronically. We do a series of background checks. We check for criminal records, past customs violations, immigration violations, agriculture violations at the port of entry, of course any type of watch list information or investigatory files, and any derogatory type information found or any type of infractions in your past, generally you’ll be denied participation in the program. But by and large, most people do get approved to apply. You’ll get a message back in your electronic account at that point to come schedule an interview with us at one of our enrollment centers at the ports of entry, where you’ll meet with the CDP officer and we’ll check your travel documents, take a full set of your fingerprints, give you a short interview, and then enroll you in the program.

Now for NEXUS and SENTRI at the land borders, you get your own dedicated lane to use. You get an RFID-enabled travel document that also serves in lieu of a passport if you’re a U.S. or a Canadian citizen. The RFID and the dedicated lane enables us to help facilitate the processing of the people through those lanes, and also ties into a bigger strategy at our land borders called active lane management, where we’re segregating travelers by the type of document or the risk assessment we’ve done on them. And we’ve really helped improved our efficiency at the land borders of processing people by doing this.

So for instance, in the trusted traveler lanes for NEXUS or SENTRI, because the people are pre-vetted and have a facilitative type document, we can process travelers in about 20 seconds per vehicle, contrasted to the normal lane where people pull up and they might not have a facilitative type document or aren’t enrolled as a pre-vetted, preapproved traveler, it could take a minute or more. So we’re able to process a lot more travelers through those lanes.

In between that, we’ve also launched something called ready lanes at the land borders. So travelers who have an RFID enabled document, such as one of the trusted traveler cards or one of the new border crossing cards or one of the new permanent resident cards or an enhanced drivers license or, of course, the State Department issued passport card, you can access what’s known as the ready lane. And these are reserved for just travelers with the RFID documents. And by not having the officer have to handle the document and run the queries, but it’s all done automatically through the RFID technology, we can facilitate the processing of those travelers through the inspection process. And on average we can clear a vehicle in about 40 seconds. So as we segregate the travelers into the trusted lanes, the ready lanes, and then everyone else, you’re looking at about a 20 second, 40 second, 60 second or more type process. So what we try to do is designate as many lanes as we can to facilitate the movements through the trusted traveler lanes and the ready lanes, and we can increase our throughput and our efficiency through the border crossings as much as 40 percent in a lot of cases.

If you go to a place like San Ysidro, our busiest land border crossing, we’re doing about 60 percent or higher of the traffic through either the sentry lanes or the ready lanes. So we’re really seeing this help us improve the efficiency of the border crossings, and we’ll look to increase the expansion of this.

Back to the airports for a minute, we’ve got the global entry program. We’re in place at 26 airports in the U.S. and then seven pre-clearance locations in Canada. It also ties in with the NEXUS air program, so they’re interlinked. We’ve got about 340,000 people enrolled in the Global Entry program. But what’s great about it, once you get approved and when you come off the plane, you do not get in the regular line for passport control. You go right to a kiosk where it will read your passport, it will read your fingerprints and confirm you’re the same person we enrolled. You’ll then answer your customs declaration questions via touch screen so you don’t have to fill out the form on the plane any longer. We’ll do the same series of background checks as if an officer had read your passport personally, and then if all goes well it will print out a receipt, you’ll claim your baggage and then hand the receipt in at the egress check to depart from our facility.

So a traveler can clear in about 40 seconds to use the kiosk so it reduces wait time. Some of our estimates – about 70-75 percent by using this program. We’re currently doing about 3-to-5 percent of the eligible traffic through that program, and we’re looking to increase that as the months go on. We’re seeing a steady stream of applications come in really an increasing number of applications for Global Entry. We’re doing about 15 or 20,000 per month now, just new applicants for that program. Right now, it’s open to U.S. citizens, permanent citizens of the U.S., and then we have agreements with certain other countries on a reciprocal-like arrangement, so it includes Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Qatar, and soon to be Korea. And we’ve also had agreements signed and we’re building the operational components with Panama and potentially Australia and New Zealand. And we’re in discussions with a few more countries about expanding the reach of this.

The goal is really to get as many low-risk travelers from as many countries as we can into the program and using this automated process. Every time someone uses the kiosk, it saves us one to three minutes of officer time, so we look it as a security benefit of having the ability, really, to facilitate identified low-risk travelers through this process, save time on their end and save resources on our end, so we can redirect those resources to processing everyone else.

So looking at the increases in traffic, we’re really pushing the Trusted Traveler enrollments. We’ve also got a few other programs we’re looking at and a few other process improvements we’re taking a real hard look at to make sure we’re as efficient as possible in how we operate the ports of entry. We’ve got things like the Express Connection program in operation at about 11 airports in the U.S. so travelers with short connection times can work through their airline and we’ll give them a designated booth to use so they can get through our process quickly and make their connecting flights and will reduce the number of missed connections.

We’ve got a pilot in operation in Houston called OneStop where travelers without check bags can go to the first checkpoint there – the passport control area. And because they have no checked bags, we’re able to facilitate their exit right out through a designated exit so they don’t go through the baggage claim area and go through that second egress check, and we can removed them from that congestion around the baggage claim area. So there are about 800 to 1,000 people a day using that process, but working closely with the airports to look for opportunities to expand that process in other places.

And then we’re looking at other things we do. The forms such as the I-94, we’re looking at ways to automate that and get rid of the paper process. We were able under the visa waiver program using the ESTA system to do away with a green I-94w. That saved the travelers the time of having to fill it out on the plane, it saved the airline the time of having to hand it out and keep it in stock, and then for us it saved about 25 to 30 seconds of officer processing time between the handling of the form, the stamping it, the stapling in the passport, and then our data retention and record keeping with that form.

So we’re looking at different ways to automate the I-94 – it’s just a white card – so if you have a visa, you have to fill out that one. And we’re looking to – at the process improvements and the cost saving that that will drive us to do by automating that. And then we’re even looking at different ideas as far as other types of kiosks to help us facilitate the processing of travelers, on how those might fit in with our border control process and our inspection processes. So we’re talking with the airlines and the different airport authorities on some ideas on how to better route and facilitate and different ideas for automation on how to inspect travelers coming through to make sure all the requirements are met, but to make sure we’re as efficient as we can be.

So really to just sum it up, I’ll just – a couple of just high points as far as reminders for travelers, when they do arrive in the U.S. to have their forms filled out even we are trying to get rid of them and we’re trying to automate them, but there’s still a couple of forms for air travelers that, if they’re filled out ahead of time, it can help facilitate the process. Have the documents ready and have the right documents – the visa, the ESTA, at the land border, having the right WHTI-approved documents. Have your customs declaration, the 6059B filled out for air traveler and sea travelers. Make sure you declare everything that you bring in. If you have questions about it, ask us. Even if it’s upon arrival, make sure you just declare everything you’ve acquired or everything you’re bringing into the U.S., and we’ll help decide whether it’s prohibited or restricted or permissible or if there’s duties or taxes owed.

But bottom line, please make sure you declare everything. And then consult with us beforehand if you have any questions. There are brochures available. There’s a “Know Before You Go” brochure. There’s brochures on agriculture products. The information’s all on our website as well at cbp.gov. You can review the restricted and prohibited types of merchandise and agriculture products that may or may not come in. So encourage all travelers to review that if they have any questions about that, and with that, I’ll close it out and take any questions.

MODERATOR: Thank you, John. Before we open it up for questions, just a reminder to state your name and your media organization, and we’ll start in the back right there. Yes.

QUESTION: Good morning. My name is Dagmar Benesova. I’m from the news agency World Business Press Online from Slovakia. And my question is: As it was mentioned, there is an increase of travelers coming into the U.S. since February 2011. How do you explain – is it because of the speeding of the process or also because of the weaker dollar? And if you have any data from which part, from which countries, the increase of the travelers coming into the U.S. was the highest. Thank you very much.

MR. WAGNER: Sure. Well, I do – it’s good news we’re seeing an increase in travelers. We’ve been working very closely with Brand USA and the travel and tourism industries to encourage people to visit the United States for work or business or school or tourism reasons. We want to make sure the arrivals process is as welcoming and friendly as it can be, but also cognizant of our security mission to make sure we’re only letting the right people in, and we’re keeping the people out that should be kept out, really. And we’re doing a lot with the security agencies to make sure that people don’t get on planes that we have concerns about. But bottom line, we want people to feel safe and confident to come to the U.S. that it is a safe place to visit, and they have the confidence to get on the plane to visit us.

Now, as far as parts of the world where we’ve seen the biggest increases, I’m not sure offhand other than to say our biggest, say, sources of travel are Canada, Mexico, and then places like the UK, Germany, France, Japan, Korea. Offhand, probably the biggest and we’re seeing a resulting increase is in places like that.

MODERATOR: We’ll go right here.

QUESTION: Thank you. This is Lalit Jha from Press Trust of India. Welcome to the Foreign Press Center. Can you give us a little bit more details about Global Entry program? Which are the areas U.S. airports where it is available right now? And also, when you fill out the form on the website and make the payments, is it one time or you have to do it every time you go or travel?

MR. WAGNER: Global Entry, it’s a onetime payment of $100, which is good for a five-year membership. And then after five years, you’ll reapply and pay the $100 again. So it’s good for that five-year period no matter how many trips you take. There’s no minimum number of trips; there’s no maximum number of trips. We’ve had some people use it 4- or 500 times already, which is a great resource savings for us as these people facilitate their travel through, and it’s great for security, too, because we know this a low-risk person going through.

As far as the country – I mean, as far as the airports, we’re at 26 airports in the U.S. It’s all of the major airports. There is a list on our website, or I can give it to you afterwards, or I can read them here if you want. But it’s all the big ones. It’s the JFK, Newark, Miami, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Washington-Dulles, Seattle, San Francisco. Somebody’s going to be mad because I forgot one.

We’re looking at some of the smaller to mid-size places – Guam, Phoenix, Charlotte we just opened in – and we’re really looking to have it any place that it makes sense to do. And what we’re doing right now is rolling out additional kiosks at those locations. We have about 150, 160 kiosks. Washington-Dulles has about 10-to-12 right there in the main arrivals hall. We want to make sure there’s no line at the kiosk, and that the line at the – if there is a line, that it’s not longer than the regular line. So we want to make sure we have enough kiosks out there for people to use so they can get into the program.

One of the big enhancements we recently made was linking it to the TSA PreCheck program. So if you’re a Global Entry or a NEXUS or SENTRI member as a U.S. citizen, you can qualify for participation in the TSA program, called PreCheck. You do it through the airline. You put your – what we call a pass ID, which is basically your membership number on the back of your card, and it can – if one of the airports is one of the participating TSA airports, you might be eligible to use their special screening lane where you can leave your shoes on, your jacket on, your liquids and laptops in the bag, and go through that.

Offhand, I can’t remember how many sites there at, but they’re expanding to a large number of airports later this summer. So we’re linked with them. So that’s driving a lot of enrollment and awareness of the program as well. And then we’re also doing a lot of outreach with the airlines to market it to the frequent flyers and a lot of the travel and tourism in hospitality industries to get it to their frequent or platinum members or gold members and make sure they’re aware of the program and given the opportunity to apply.

And then some industries are actually on their own paying the fee for their members. American Express was one of them. For the platinum card, they’re reimbursing travelers for the $100 enrollment fee, and (inaudible) about 90,000 applications. United Airlines has announced plans to reimburse their top-tiered frequent fliers of the $100 enrollment fee, too, so we look for opportunities also to partner with other corporations and businesses to do that.

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on the --

MODERATOR: Sure. Sure.

QUESTION: Very often, we do report that some (inaudible) personalities from overseas foreign countries like India, film stars or the former presidents come here, and they had – they are screened and they had – at the airports, they have to go through a lot of inconvenience. And then at the end of it, the CBP, the U.S. Government writes apology letter to those individuals. Why don’t you expand this global entry program to them? Or do you have any program for those individuals, VIPs who come to the U.S., and they shouldn’t be – have to go through such inconvenient procedures?

MR. WAGNER: Right. Right now, we’re in discussions with a lot of different governments. It works on a reciprocal basis and some level of agreement on a level of background checks each country will do. So it’s a matter of whether we can reach agreement with those countries and they’re willing and able to do those – the types of checks, and we can negotiate a threshold for qualifying our participation in that.

As far as any other, say, process for VIP arrivals, unless they have some type of, say, diplomatic visa or exemption, everyone would go through the same type of process. We don’t want it to be seen as a hassle. We want people to understand the importance of it, and we are keeping people safe, and it’s – we want people to have the confidence that it’s safe and secure to come here, and part of those processes is ensure that. So we do ask for the public’s patience in helping us help them and make sure all those requirements are met.

MODERATOR: Okay. Let’s go to the back.

QUESTION: Thank you. This is Ana Coman from Radio Romania. I’m wondering, what are you doing to speed up processing of tourists who come from countries that are not included in the Visa Waiver Program?

MR. WAGNER: So we’re looking at, number one, making sure we have enough booths open at peak arrival times. We’re looking at our process itself as far as the I-94 documents. We think once we’re able to automate that – and I would hope that will be done later this year. We’ll keep our fingers crossed we can get that done. But that’s what we’re projecting.

But we think that will take a good 25 to 30 seconds off of the inspection process, which currently takes about two and a half to three minutes right now. So we do see that as a big timesaver. And then we’re just looking at other types of processes, improvements – how we route people, how we move people through the facility, other types of automation we might be able to use, some types of self-service kiosks and those things. But they’re really just in the discussion phases now, but we’re open to any and all ideas on how to really transform how we’re doing business to make sure it is efficient as possible.

MODERATOR: We’ll come right here in the front.

QUESTION: This is Sarantuya, a Mongolian TV reporter. Mr. John Wagner, very nice to meet you again at the Foreign Press Center. I have three small questions.

What’s the main difference between the Trusted Traveler program and the Global Entry program? Second, would you say what makes traveling easier for tourists from Asia? What could I tell them? A third question is: After returning home to America, as usual, me and the other foreign journalists stuck for two or three hours at the airport. I still don’t understand the delay. What would you say about it? Thank you.

MR. WAGNER: Sure. The first question was the difference between Trusted Traveler programs and?

QUESTION: Global Entry.

MR. WAGNER: And Global Entry. They’re the same. Global Entry is one of our Trusted Traveler programs, so we just call them different things. The other programs are NEXUS and SENTRI, so we have three programs. But they’re all a family of Trusted Traveler programs.

As far as making travel easier from Asia, we will be announcing soon with Korea their inclusion in the Global Entry program. That should be in the coming weeks. That will open it up to citizens of Korea to use the kiosks and enroll. We are in some discussions with other countries in Asia about their inclusion as well, and we’ll see how those discussions progress.

But really, it’s – as far as the wait times and why there’s long waits, overall we process about 75 percent of travelers in 30 minutes or less. We do get congested at times because of concurrent arrivals – bigger planes, more people coming. Sometimes the facilities are just overloaded. And then sometimes our staff is stretched out too far, that we’re operating in multiple terminals, we’re clearing flights after hours. And we try to work with the airlines and the airports to make it as efficient as possible.

We want to provide as much service as we can and the best service that we can, so we really do our best to spread our staff around to make sure we can cover all that, but sometimes really just the – everyone arrives within a short window at some locations and it just overloads the process or the capacity of that, or the capacity of our staff on duty to process them. And it’s – we understand the airline logistics and the connections and the routes and – but sometimes, it’s real difficult on all our parts to make sure we’re able to do that. So sometimes we do see the arrival times during peak times reach those times you mentioned.

The wait times are on our website. We do calculate them for every passenger, and it is based on some mathematical formulas. We take it from the time the plane blocks to the time we actually read that passport at the passport control booth with the officer, and we subtract out the, say, transit time or the walk time from the plane into our area, so – and then we do the calculations and the averages. And so we do put a lot of effort into it on how we measure it to make sure we’re keeping an eye on that. And we do have some automated software we’re rolling out which will interface with a lot of the arrivals data and will give us real-time projections of how many travelers are coming in and what hour of the day to make sure we have enough staff on duty and we have enough booths open.

We do that right now. It’s kind of a manual process, a lot of places now, but we’re looking at rolling out some software that will help make that easier and will interface automatically with different data sources out there to give us real-time updates of how many people are coming in, because we get the data already from the manifests from the airlines, so we have a good picture of who to expect each day and how many people are coming. So it’d just help us plan a little better to do that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Okay.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) in Spanish?

MODERATOR: Well, actually, we need you to do it in English for the transcript.

QUESTION: I’m Martha Avila. I’m from RCN TV Colombia. What is the most important accommodation for the Latino tourists? And can you tell us more about the most common mistake – tourist mistake?

MR. WAGNER: I think what will help us out the most – everyone has their forms filled out and their documents ready when they approach the officer and they declare all the items that they have acquired or they’re bringing into the United States. And if there’s any questions beforehand, just please ask us and we’re happy to provide any type of information beforehand. But really, those little steps like that really help us keep the lines moving and keep the process flowing.

QUESTION: And in Spanish (inaudible)?

MR. WAGNER: I don’t think – I don’t know if I could get all that done. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: Okay. Let’s go to the back.

QUESTION: I just wanted a follow-up question. You said that you might – you’re considering having self-service kiosks for people who are not included in the Visa Waiver Program. How might that work? I know it’s still a discussion, you said, but what’s the idea behind it?

MR. WAGNER: Yeah. Conceptually, we’re in some discussions just reviewing ideas on how travelers might be able to do some of the processing on their own. We’re open to any ideas. It can do it upon arrival before they reach the officer. Is there data that they can preposition while they’re waiting in line? Is there data they can send to us while they’re waiting in line to take advantage of the queuing time or the wait time and then help us with some of the administrative parts of the inspection process? Or is there data they can even send us beforehand, before arrival, and those kinds of things?
 

But looking at kiosks, some countries around the world have put out these types of gates and kiosks where people can read their passports before approaching the officer and queue up some of the information, some of the systems checks, and provide some of that information beforehand. So we’re looking at different ways where that might help us help speed the process through.

QUESTION: Can you give me an example of the type of information that the traveler might give in advance?

MR. WAGNER: Sure. They could read their passport. We could send it off to the system queries beforehand. They could answer their customs declaration questions on a touch screen and provide that – all that information before the officer – before they reach the officer in the booth.

MODERATOR: Let’s go here in the front.

QUESTION: Do you have any kind of program or negotiations going on with India regarding travelers coming from the – a large number of travelers come here from India for tourism purposes every year, and summer is the peak months for them.

MR. WAGNER: I’m not aware of anything right now.

QUESTION: And do you have any list of countries where the travelers coming from that you have a greater risk screening for them (inaudible) for the travelers coming those countries?

MR. WAGNER: Well, we have – we do get the advance passenger information on all travelers coming via commercial air or sea from all countries. So the airlines and the cruise ships and the commercial sea carriers have to provide us before departure with the manifest of who they’re bringing. We also get access to the reservation data, also known as PNR. So we screen all the travelers through that information to identify people that might warrant additional scrutiny or people that might have questions about their documents that need to be addressed before they travel to the U.S. But we get that on all travelers from all places.

QUESTION: Must be a tough task. I mean, it’s – is it (inaudible).

MR. WAGNER: No. A lot of it’s automated. We process about a million people – just under a million people a day coming into the U.S. So we have a whole group of officers and other people that go through this arrival data and identify who are the high-risk people, people who might warrant additional scrutiny, people whose documents might need to be looked at or may have been revoked or made it a different type of document before they come here. And to the extent we can do that before they travel and we can address that before they get on the plane to come here, we try to do that as much as we can, and then working our airline contacts to make sure we let that person know.

MODERATOR: Great. Any other questions?


Well, we will end the briefing there. We want to thank John very much for taking the time to come over, and our briefing is now concluded. Thank you.

MR. WAGNER: Thanks.

# # #