Tacklinga surge of applications, CBP takes NEXUS online

Published on Thu, Aug 23, 2007 by MegOlson

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Tackling a surge of applications, CBP takes NEXUS online

By Meg Olson

Tackling a wave of renewals and predicting a surge in applications, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has taken the NEXUS application process online.

The NEXUS program, which gives pre-cleared travelers expedited processing at land, air, and sea ports, is jointly administered by the CBP and the Canada Border Services Agency.

Until now anyone interested in becoming a NEXUS member or renewing their membership needed to mail an application to the Canadian processing center, and wait to be notified by mail that they can call for an appointment for an interview and final approval.

The system has been bogged down in recent weeks as the 30,000 original applicants who were initially accepted when the system was launched in 2002 come up to their 5-year renewal.

“We’re processing 69 a day,” said Willie Hicks, CBP public affairs officer in Blaine. Applicants calling to make appointments for their interview have faced hours of busy signals and are waiting up to five weeks for an appointment.

Users of the new online system will get notification of preliminary approval through an online account after filling out an application at www.cbp.gov under “Quicklinks,” and paying a membership fee. They can then book an appointment through the website.

CBP commissioner Ralph Basham is anticipating a surge in membership applications when passports or an alternative secure document are needed to cross the border as soon as next summer.
“This program has tremendous benefits for our law enforcement officers as well as travelers, particularly as it has been proposed as an alternative document to a passport under new document requirements, and we want to encourage members to sign up,” he said.

Under a proposed rule establishing the new documentation requirements, published by the Department of Homeland Security in June, a NEXUS card would be accepted as an alternative to a paper passport. The passport is already a requirement for air travel to the U.S. and will be required at all land and sea crossings as early as January, 2008.

However, CBP public affairs officer Mike Milne said the agency did not expect to implement them until the summer of 2008.

“They’re responding to the backlog for passport issuance at the state department,” he said.

Comments on the proposed rule need to be submitted to the agency by Monday August 27 to be considered before a final rule is issued.

The state of Washington has also received approval to begin issuing an enhanced drivers’ license and identification card that would be accepted as an alternative to a passport.

“The security features would be very similar to what is currently in a passport,” said department of licensing communications director Gigi Zenk.

The voluntary license would cost $10 to $15 more than a regular license and drivers would have to provide proof of citizenship, identity and residence to obtain one.

The state department of licensing plans to begin issuing the new licenses in January 2008 piloting them at 12 offices including Bellingham.