The coronavirus pandemic has impacted the travel industry in innumerable ways — and on a global scale. Over 200 countries imposed travel restrictions in response to the virus, which created a cascade effect of ramifications and limitations on everything from worldwide tourism to airlines. While these disruptions are projected to affect various industries for years to come, U.S. government agencies that handle travel and security protocols also responded to the pandemic with restrictions of their own.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which is responsible for controlling and monitoring the movement of people into and out of the country, is one of these agencies. It implements the Global Entry program, which allows expedited clearance and entry into the U.S. for pre-approved, low-risk travelers via kiosks located at certain airports. Due to coronavirus-related travel regulations, the Global Entry program’s operations were suspended for months — but they’re due to resume on September 8, 2020. Learn more about the implications this pause has had on worldwide travel and the enrollment process, along with disruptions to Global Entry’s parent program.
How Does the Global Entry Program Work?
CBP runs a number of programs, called Trusted Traveler programs, which all aim to facilitate quick processing through customs and entry into the United States for pre-approved travelers. Each program is geared towards a different type of traveler: For example, the SENTRI program is for people who frequently fly and drive between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, while NEXUS is for those who drive, fly or sail between the U.S. and Canada often. Global Entry is another of these Trusted Traveler programs. It’s intended for use by U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and some foreign nationals who frequently drive, sail or fly to international locations and need to get back into the United States.
People who apply for enrollment in Global Entry must undergo strict background checks before they’re admitted to the program. First, you file an application with CBP, and once it has been processed, you submit to a full background check and an interview, during which you’re fingerprinted and photographed, with CBP officials. This process can take several months or longer, but once you’re approved and become a Global Entry member, you’re issued a special card you can use for faster processing at land and sea ports of entry. Your membership is valid for five years, after which you’ll need to renew it.
One of the primary benefits of Global Entry membership is that it streamlines processing times at airports. You don’t have to wait in customs processing lines or fill out paperwork. When you arrive at a U.S. airport from an international destination, you can proceed directly to a Global Entry kiosk, scan your passport or permanent residency card, scan your fingerprints and fill out digital customs forms. The kiosk gives you a receipt that indicates whether you can proceed to baggage claim or if you need to step aside and undergo a random customs inspection and interview. If you violate the terms and conditions of the program, it will result in termination of your privileges and enforcement of any appropriate legal action.
Why Was the Global Entry Program Suspended?
On March 18, 2020, when many states were beginning to implement stay-home and shelter-in-place orders in response to the coronavirus pandemic, CBP also announced temporary closures of the Trusted Traveler program and its enrollment centers. A press release from CBP noted that the agency was “taking this precautionary measure to minimize the exposure of CBP personnel and the public to the novel coronavirus.” This closure included all Global Entry and other Trusted Traveler enrollment centers until further notice and required all potential applicants to wait until May 1 to reschedule their enrollment interviews.
One element of the program that wasn’t suspended? CBP’s Enrollment on Arrival (EOA), which allows people who are conditionally approved for the Global Entry program to complete their interviews at the airport after arriving in the United States. The goal of EOA is to simplify the application process by eliminating the need for applicants to schedule separate interviews at enrollment centers. However, to be eligible for this, potential Global Entry members needed to have already submitted their applications before the suspension took place.
As the pandemic continued, CBP extended the closures several times over the summer of 2020. On September 4, however, the agency officially announced the reopening of enrollment centers beginning on September 8. At that time, Global Entry applicants can resume completing their application interviews.
New restrictions and installations, like Plexiglas counter shields, are in place in enrollment centers to encourage social distancing, and all visitors, along with CBP staff, are required to wear face coverings that meet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. Expect appointment scheduling to take a bit longer; appointment availability will be reduced to limit the number of people in the enrollment centers at one time. Waiting areas may also be closed.
New York State’s Trusted Travelers Ban
If you live in New York, you may have been told you can’t apply for the Global Entry program. In February of 2020, CBP announced that residents of New York were no longer eligible to apply for or renew membership to any of its Trusted Traveler programs. This decision stemmed from legislation that the state passed in January that restricted the federal government’s access to DMV records.
Dubbed the “green light law,” this legislation prevents federal agencies like CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from accessing the State of New York’s DMV database as part of the background check process. To gain access to the DMV’s records under the new law, federal agencies were required to obtain a court order. New York enacted this ban in part to protect undocumented people, who are allowed to get drivers licenses in the state.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees CBP, banned New York state residents from participating in any of the Trusted Traveler programs immediately after the green light law took effect in a response that was largely seen as retaliatory. CBP canceled all existing applications from residents of the state and refunded their enrollment fees. However, in late July of 2020, the DHS lifted the ban after New York amended the green light policy to allow federal agencies access to DMV records only for those people who applied to a Trusted Traveler program. If your application was rejected due to this suspension, you can reapply for enrollment — but you may need to wait extra time for approval due to coronavirus-related delays.