The Department of Homeland Security’s popular Global Entry program, part of the Trusted Traveler Program, is experiencing significant delays – here’s how to beat it.
What Is Global Entry?
The US Trusted Traveler Program is a system of security protocols that pre-screen (perform background checks) American travelers to expedite passage through security checkpoints. NEXUS allows frequent travelers through Canada and Mexico to use expedited travel lanes and bypass lengthy security checks, these also allow for land crossings through vehicles. TSA Precheck is a domestic security program that allows approved passengers to bypass standard security lines and proceed through a reduced inspection area with shorter lines and fewer hassles.
Global Entry membership allows vetted and approved passengers to bypass lines and most of the process when entering the United States by using Global Entry kiosks to answer basic questions. This is focused on international travel outside of Canada and Mexico but of course, works for arrivals from those countries too. Once completed, a slip is printed and handed to a waiting agent and/or Agriculture representative upon exit. In airports that do not have a dedicated Global Entry agent, members can move to the front of the Customs line to pass their slip to CBP officers.
The Global Entry application fee is $100 and if approved is valid for (5) years. Global entry also includes TSA Precheck benefits (and $85 value.) Upon successful completion of both the background check (conditional approval) and the interview, a card will be sent out to travelers. This card, though it looks like a driver’s license with sensitive details and a photo – constitutes a valid form of identification at security checkpoints (though in my experience, many staff members are not aware and do not honor this) and cannot be used in lieu of a passport. Travelers also cannot use this card to check in at an airport counter.
Naturalized citizens are eligible for Global Entry including those with a permanent residency card in the US.
This week, DHS disclosed that due to a COVID-incurred backlog and a surplus of new applications, the agency is experiencing delays in processing applications by up to 18 months. It’s important to note that such delays are just processing new applications, not including the in-person interview.
DHS reports that TSA Precheck has just a two-week wait on applications with interviews, fingerprinting, and documentation adding just 3-5 additional days.
Important note: If a traveler has submitted a Trusted Traveler Program application, they cannot then submit a secondary request for another program until the first application has a decision. For travelers who have a stalled or stuck application for Global Entry, they should not submit a TSA Precheck application (or NEXUS) as they will not be processed, however, applicants still pay for the application fee.
Global Entry Renewal
Renewing your Global Entry membership is a far easier endeavor. The renewal process is typically faster and does not require a new interview in most cases. Travelers can apply for renewal during the last year of their membership. Paying the fee is the largest impediment to the process. Application fees are reimbursed by some premium credit cards once every five years such as the American Express Platinum credit card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, or the Capital One Venture X.
I Failed To Renew
It’s my own fault. I had a long wait for my initial Global Entry approval so I should have been more diligent with my renewal which was due during COVID. However, with constant extensions due to the pandemic, there was no rush. Adding the grace period after the extensions took away my concentration on getting my renewal completed and also hindered my ability to do so (almost impossible to schedule an appointment to interview.) However, it lapsed, I had plenty of time and notice and I failed to renew putting myself in this compromised position.
That’s my fault 100%.
What made it particularly stupid on my part, is that the last time my application stalled for nine months before it moved to the next stage and required intervention to get it out of purgatory.
How To Beat The 18-Month Global Entry Processing Delay
There are two potential portions of the Global Entry process that can be delayed. The first is in the initial application processing where documentation has been submitted but the application is in review and there has not yet been a change in status to “conditionally approved.” The second is following that process but a failure to secure an appointment for a Global Entry Interview.
How To Get Your Application Approval Expedited
One way to shortcut your passport issuing is listing your next international trip on the application, especially if it’s within the near future. The agency usually puts those to the front of the line. For Global Entry, future trips don’t necessarily help application approvals move to conditional approval.
If your application is stuck or even denied, there is an ombudsman process to challenge the decision. My last experience with an ombudsman was not great. However, contacting your congressman (especially in an election year) is a good tool to get an application unstuck. By contacting an elected official, whose office staff is there to serve the constituency, there is no guarantee that the application will be approved, but it will get attention.
If you find yourself in this situation, reach out to your representative or senator. Most will have a release to sign in order to work on your behalf and share information with DHS.
How To Get Your Interview Appointment Expedited
Landing a Global Entry appointment for an interview can be the next challenge, and as an FYI, conditional approvals do expire. The government won’t necessarily grant an extension on your time allotted to complete your interview even though they do not have appointments available.
If you have applied for Global Entry, and have received the conditional approval but can’t find an opportunity to interview, at most major airports with international gateways, you can participate in enrollment on arrival, completing your interview following re-rentry and clearance from Customs and Border Protection.
Global Entry Enrollment Centers may offer drop-in interviews (though these seem to be increasingly rare.)
Applicants are also able to schedule an interview at ANY eligible location. This could be a nearby airport, a city you’re going to visit, or even an international location. For example, if you live in Pittsburgh and have an appointment confirmed in January of 2023 (don’t look, they don’t have any appointments bookable even that far out) but are flying to Fort Lauderdale for a weekend away, you can shop that city for appointments too.
There’s even a service, Appointment Scanner, that will find available appointments as they are released to up to 100 locations, and up to 25 alerts for $29. The service last 30 days and does not renew.
Some locations, especially those with lingering COVID caution, may offer online interviews. A relative did this and I was able to overhear the interview. It was quick, easy, and scheduled relatively soon.
Following a successful interview and processing, your Trusted Traveler number should arrive quickly and you can place that on upcoming reservations.
Fine For Me, Not For Thee
While the Department of Transportation is trying to manage through threats of new rules, for airlines to perform better, the Department of Homeland Security feels no such pressure to perform. The two departments are managed by different cabinet members, both reporting to President Biden, but for travelers, the question is simpler: what is the government doing to improve my travel woes?
The DOT has been clear that airlines need to do a better job, just this week the agency published guidelines for what passengers are due during delays and cancellations, as well as which airlines have policies that comply or exceed with those guidelines. That pressure has been enough to force results.
The DHS by comparison has given separate guidelines letting travelers know that they will get to Global Entry processing when they feel like it essentially.
American travelers, I’d argue, will not see the help the government is performing in one sector when imposing an impediment in another aspect of the travel experience, entirely within their control. It’s also worth noting how this looks and feels: “airlines are making your life hard so they should get their act together or else; what about us? Doesn’t apply.”
An 18-month delay for Global Entry application processing is absurdly high. The program has little recourse, does not have to ever approve, and does not have to extend the conditional approval. There are options to beat these delays, but it requires more work than it should. If the Department of Homeland Security treated Global Entry customers (that’s what they are when they pay the fee for this special service) like the Department of Transportation wants airlines to treat its customers, there might be a less embarrassing delay and no need for alternative solutions.
What do you think? How have you gotten around Global Entry delays?