U.S. Customs and Border Protection's John Wagner

By Gay Nagle Myers
John WagnerSequester talk and furlough concerns have likely fueled a recent surge in applications for Global Entry, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program under the Department of Homeland Security that enables quick re-entry into the U.S. for prescreened, preapproved, low-risk travelers. John Wagner, acting deputy assistant commissioner for field operations, profiled the typical Global Entry member and discussed the program's history, growth and success to date with senior editor Gay Nagle Myers.

Q: When did the Global Entry program launch?

We launched the program on June 6, 2008, at three airports. There was strong interest initially, but it took a while to get our message out, to explain the nuts and bolts of the application and approval process and to convince travelers that Global Entry was and is a permanent program.

Q: How many travelers are enrolled now, and how much of a spike have you seen in applications?

More than 1.5 million travelers have Global Entry clearance, including those enrolled in land-crossing programs like Sentri on the Mexican border and Nexus, a joint entry program between the U.S. and Canada. We began seeing a spike in applications early in the year, from 15,000 a month up to approximately 50,000 now. The sequester and furlough issues probably have a lot to do with it. No one wants to wait in long lines at customs and immigration.

Q: What's involved in the application and interview process?

Travelers create a user ID and password, register online, fill out the application -- one for each family member -- and submit payment by credit card or electronic debit. We have 20 officers reviewing applications and doing background checks. Issues like immigration irregularities or history of arrests can disqualify applicants. Preapproval takes a couple of weeks. Applicants need to periodically log in to check the status of their application. Once they're conditionally approved, they schedule their in-person interview at one of 40 U.S. airports. Right now we've got about 88,000 appointments scheduled in the next 60 days. More than 13,000 applicants have not yet scheduled appointments. Each interview takes about 20 minutes. The officer checks passport and travel history, takes fingerprints, a photograph, and you're in.

Q: What happens at the airport kiosks?

Global Entry members head right to the special kiosks where their passport is read, photo taken and four fingerprints scanned. A receipt prints out, which they hand to an official, and they're done. The process can take less than a minute in most cases. We've had a few problems with fingerprint scanners, but that's being fixed. We have 283 kiosks, including 30 at JFK, our busiest airport, and 23 at Washington Dulles. More are added all the time, depending upon the volume of international arrivals.

Q: Who is the Global Entry member?

Typically it's a frequent business traveler, although the leisure side is building up. Kids can enroll at any age, so we're getting some families. Membership is good for five years. Renewals may or may not require another interview. American Express waives the $100 fee for its platinum card holders. United pays the fee for its premium flyers.

Q: What's the tie-in with the TSA Pre-Check program?

Global Entry members qualify for PreCheck if they're flying on a participating airline at the 29 participating domestic airports. It was just expanded to include expedited screening on select international itineraries, as well.

Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly. 
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