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U.S., Canada look to expand preclearance program from airports to other travel modes

by Ilene Grossman ~ August 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Fourteen years after a binational agreement between Canada and the United States led to the use of preclearance facilities at select airports, a legislative push is on to expand the program to other modes of travel between the two countries.
These facilities allow people traveling to the United States (U.S. citizens and residents, as well as foreign nationals) to clear U.S. immigration and customs from their departure point rather than their arrival point. They currently operate at eight Canadian airports.
The two countries have already signed an agreement to allow for preclearance at select land, rail and marine facilities (for example, passengers traveling to the United States would go through customs and immigration inspections where they board a train or ferry in Canada) — with the goals of reducing congestion at international arrival terminals and reducing processing times for travelers.
These facilities, too, can stop inadmissible travelers before they leave for the United States, thus saving money on detention, processing and repatriation. For preclearance to be expanded, however, legislation must first be passed in the United States and Canada. On the U.S. side, the Promoting Travel, Commerce, and National Security Act (S. 2612 and H.R. 4657) was introduced earlier this year.
Thus far, this legislation has gone nowhere in the U.S. Congress despite little or no opposition to it, says Daniel Ujczo, an international trade and customs attorney with law firm Dickinson Wright.
According to the Border Policy Research Institute, based at Western Washington University, expanding preclearance would save international travelers considerable time as they enter the United States — for example, 20 to 30 minutes for those on a ferry from British Columbia to Washington state or close to 15 minutes for those on an Amtrak train from Vancouver.
Similar time savings would extend to the Midwest as well. According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, more than 15,000 rail passengers traveling from Canada accessed border facilities in Detroit and Port Huron, Mich., in 2015. Meanwhile, another initiative to ease cross-border travel recently got a boost with U.S. implementation of the Known Employer pilot program, which provides preauthorization to businesses that often move employees between facilities or that need additional workers.
The program, Ujczo says, “allows [companies] to avoid having to keep submitting the same information when they petition for workers.”
“Each worker still has to meet specific qualification and security standards,” he adds.


Article written by Ilene Grossman, CSG Midwest staff liaison for the Midwestern Legislative Conference Midwest-Canada Relations Committee.