BUFFALO, N.Y. — A pilot program began Friday at the Peace Bridge that aimed at helping to clear a massive back log in applications for NEXUS, the trusted traveler program which eases the process for those seeking to make a border crossing between the U.S. and Canada.
Traditionally, if you wanted to apply for the program it required, among other things, crossing the border into Canada for an in-person interview with agents from both Canadian and American customs.
The COVID-19 pandemic effectively shut down the border to recreational travel beginning March 2020, and border agents stopped crossing the border to accommodate NEXUS interviews.
U.S. NEXUS enrollment centers reopened in April of 2022; however, legal differences between the two countries held up a return to the traditional joint interview process.
"It was about immunity as it relates to U.S. customs and border carrying their weapons on Canadian soil," said U.S. Rep Brian Higgins (D-NY) who has been working with members of congress from other border states to resolve the situation.
Without the legal protections they have on American soil, U.S. agents were reticent to cross into Canada. The resultant standstill, according to Higgins, created a backlog of more than 350,000 applications and a 16 wait for applicants to a program designed to expedite travel.
"That is, of course, counter to the intent of the program when it was created in the first place," Higgins said.
The pilot program launched Friday at the Peace Bridge is modeled after one which began in September at a less busy border crossing near Alexandria Bay.
How It Works
The Peace Bridge NEXUS pilot project will have applicants sit with CBSA agents in Canada first followed by a meeting with CBP agents in the United States.
"This is the negotiated agreement," said Higgins, who agrees that it's not the optimal situation with applicants now having to go through two interviews in two countries.
However, according to Higgins, the pilot program when fully implemented may allow for the the processing of 500 NEXUS applications weekly at the Peace Bridge site.
"It's a temporary work around until the larger issues can be resolved," Higgins said.
"We Can Do Better"
Meanwhile, Higgins noted that the Arrive Can app, developed during the pandemic, never required an in-person interview. This leaves him to question if such a measure should even be required for NEXUS applicants.
"That was made possible by the technology we have, and you have to answer very pertinent questions relative to issues of public safety as it relates to who is crossing the border. Why can't we do the same thing here, and therefore not have to have people go through two physical interviews?" asked Higgins.
"They wouldn't have to do any, and they can do all of this online."