Biometrics enable expedited border screening
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Global Entry program is expanding enabling enrolled U.S. citizens to enjoy expedited screening when returning from travel abroad to a number of domestic airports. The program also makes them eligible to participate in similar programs at foreign airports.
Global Entry has 200,000 travelers enrolled, says John Wagner, executive director of Admissibility and Passenger Programs at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It’s open to U.S. citizens and permanent residents as well as citizens of Canada, Mexico and The Netherlands via reciprocal arrangements.
Global Entry is a program that requires travelers to undergo a background check and submit biometric data in order to receive expedited processing at U.S. airports. When the traveler returns from an international trip, he proceeds to a kiosk to present his passport rather than getting in line to see the customs officer. Currently, there are 137 Global Entry kiosks at the top 20 U.S. airports.
At the kiosk, the traveler’s fingerprints are scanned and compared against the fingerprints on file to authenticate identity. Customs declaration questions are answered on the kiosk’s touch screen. The system runs a series of checks in the background and prints a receipt that the traveler presents as he departs the facility. “If they don’t have checked bags they can get out of the CBP area in less than a minute processing,” Wagner says.
There are pilots underway to further extend the program, Wagner says. Testing is underway with a select number of UK citizens and next year there are plans to conduct pilots with Germany and Korea. Other countries may also be on the horizon. “We’ve had very good discussions with Japan. We’ve had some interest with countries like France, Singapore, and Australia, New Zealand, but there’s still a lot of details to be worked out with those countries,” Wagner adds.
Foreign travelers wishing to participate in the program must undergo two background checks, Wagner says. “Those countries have agreed to perform a similar set of background checks against their own databases and confirm to us is whether that applicant passes the series of checks in their home country,” Wagner says. “Then of course we’ll run the checks on our side and do the interview and fingerprinting as well.”
The reciprocity with The Netherlands has enabled U.S. citizens to join that country’s trusted traveler program, Wagner says. If the pilot programs with other countries go well, that type of reciprocity will be extended opening up more options for U.S. citizens.
Global Entry participants also can access a domestic trusted traveler pilot program that the Transportation Security Administration is testing at four U.S. airports with two separate airlines. Citizens participating in Global Entry, SENTRI or NEXUS are eligible to participate in that pilot free of charge. SENTRI and NEXUS are expedited traveler programs from the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
Travelers enter their Global Entry number when making their airline reservation. “When you get to the TSA security screening checkpoint at one of those airports, you may be directed to a line that offers an expedited screening process,” Wagner says. “So you don’t have to take off your shoes, you don’t have to take your liquids out of the bag, you can leave your jacket on, things like that.”