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NEXUS Backlogs – Limited Solutions Available

With increase of post-pandemic travel has come major travel delays and lineups across airports and border crossings. Ironically, the one program designed to facilitate smoother and faster travel experiences in Canada and the United States, NEXUS, has a backlog of over 330,000 applications since the start of covid.

NEXUS is a trusted traveler program, jointly administered by Canada (the Canadian Border Services Agency) and the United States of America (Customs and Border Protection). The members enjoy fast-tracked security screening at any Canadian borders, and simplified customs procedures when travelling between Canada and the US via air, land, or boat. While NEXUS membership is open to Canadians and Americans, the majority of the program users are from Canada.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the processing of NEXUS memberships came to an abrupt halt. One of the programs pre-requisites involves a face-to-face interview with both a CBSA and US CBP officer. Prior to COVID-19, the NEXUS interviews in Canada took place at the same office with both CBSA and CPB officers. It was efficient and quick.  In Spring of 2022, the United States re-opened their enrolment centers to allow for in person interviews. However, Canadian enrolment centres remained closed which has created a serious political snafu in both jurisdictions.

The current operational stalemate on the resumption services at Canadian enrollment centers relates to Canada’s sovereignty and jurisdiction and a disagreement on the level of immunity to be provided to US Customs and Border Patrol on Canadian soil when activities are not directly related to CPB border screening for immediate boarding. CPB officers, who carry guns, seek full immunity from prosecution.

The US is specifically requesting that their employees in NEXUS offices have the same immunity from prosecution granted to that US border agents in Canadian airport customs pre-clearance. The US has indicated this has been in the works for years, and that it does not make sense for border agents at pre-clearance sites and NEXUS agents to have different protections.

The Canadian counterparts, however, create a differentiation between NEXUS enrolment centres and pre-clearance at an airport, and are hesitant to extend the type of immunity that is being requested to protect CBP officers from liabilities.

The result of this dispute is that NEXUS interviews are only conducted in the US at this time, which means fewer interview locations and longer travel times for Canadians.

There have been two temporary solutions to address this issue. The first is that members who apply to renew their NEXUS membership before it expires can continue to enjoy the benefits, while their renewal applications process.

The second solution is in the form of a pilot project launched at the Peace Bridge and Thousand Islands bridge crossings. This project has applicants participate in two (2) separate interviews: the first on Canadian soil (either in Fort Eerie or Lansdowne, Ontario) with CBSA officers; the second by crossing into the US, to complete the interview with US CBP (in Buffalo or Alexandria Bay, NY).

Throughout the past two years and at present, Canadian officials continue to advertise the benefits of NEXUS membership, including new electronic face-recognition software at Toronto Pearson Airport which will allow for customs processing in 20 seconds. Without a permanent solution to the backlog, however, most NEXUS applicants will be waiting well over a year to reap the benefits of this program.