A New York congressman is “zooming” in on the bilateral Nexus backlog, saying that the popular videoconferencing software, Zoom, should be used to speed up applications.
As reported by the Canadian Press, Rep. Brian Higgins has introduced U.S. legislation that, if passed, would require the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to use Zoom for in-person interviews (one of the final steps of a Nexus trusted-traveller application).
The bill is called “Make Nexus Work Act” and is the latest response to a political squabble between Canada and the U.S. that has delayed the reopening of Nexus enrolment centres in Canada for nearly a year, which has resulted in a mounting backlog of applications.
“We've always looked at infrastructure, including technology, as a way to expedite the customs process at the border,'' Higgins said in an interview with CP.
New interview options
Some progress on the Nexus front has been made, however.
Earlier this month, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) confirmed a plan to increase the enrolment capacity for new and renewing members.
There would be a new option for air travellers, allowing CBSA interviews at reopened airport enrolment centres in Canada and separate CBP interviews at Canadian airport preclearance locations for applicants departing for the U.S.
The new process should be available by Spring 2023, the agencies said.
It also unfolds in two steps.
The process begins with the Canadian portion of the NEXUS interview conducted by CBSA officers at Canadian airport enrolment centres. Applicants are required to book an appointment online.
The U.S. portion of the NEXUS interview will then be conducted by CBP officers in the preclearance area of a Canadian airport before the applicant departs for the United States.
Applicants will not need to schedule appointments for the U.S. interview but are encouraged to build in time to their travel plans to allow for this interview to take place before their departure.
The CBP interview can occur only after the CBSA portion of the interview has been completed and the information has been shared with CBP, the agencies said.
There’s also a split interview process at two land ports of entry – where the Canadian interview is conducted at the Canadian enrolment centre and the U.S. interview completed at the corresponding U.S. enrolment centre located just across the border.
This process is currently available at the Lansdowne, Ontario and Fort Erie, Ontario enrolment centres.
Since Oct. 1, 2022, CBP and CBSA say they have completed more than 200,000 NEXUS enrolments and reduced the inventory of applicants by approximately 100,000 from its peak in summer 2022, said CBSA.
On the U.S. side, where enrolment centres opened in April 2022, what had been a 16-month wait between making an application and receiving a Nexus card is now down to between 12 and 14 months, Higgins said.
“But we can certainly do better, and I think one of the ways you can do better is through the interview process taking place virtually,” he said.
The reopening of Nexus, which expedites the border clearance process for pre-approved members travelling between Canada and U.S., has been delayed after U.S-based. CBP didn’t get their way in ensuring guards had access to the same legal powers and protections they enjoy at land entry points and in Canadian airport preclearance centres.
The two-step process is one solution to addressing the conflict, and videoconferencing would be more effective in moving things along, Higgins told CP.
“When people don't have Nexus passes, they're in that big line of people who invariably are delayed significantly, and that discourages people from making that cross-border trip,'' he said.
“A lot of the cross-border trips that occurred pre-pandemic may not return in whatever phase it is we're in now, because people have adjusted their economic behaviour to avoid the bridge because of all kinds of problems.''