U.S. Customs and Border Protection has rolled out to several ports of entry a new process designed to significantly speed up the amount of time it takes for someone to obtain a license to become a customs broker.
The move should benefit companies that manage for clients the preparation and submission of documents and applicable fees to government agencies necessary to clear goods for import or export. Brokerage houses have complained in the past that replacing or adding staff needed to maintain or grow business is difficult because it can take CBP up to 12 months or more to review an application and grant a license after someone has passed a broker examination. The delay also prevents individuals from earning a higher salary associated with having the necessary credentials to manage an office.
Under the new system phased in since July, prospective brokers will be able to obtain a license within three months.
The expedited licensing system is fully functional in the following ports, according to a list provided by spokesman Ian Phillips:
- New York (John F. Kennedy International Airport).
- San Francisco.
- Laredo, Texas.
- Nogales, Ariz.
- Otay Mesa, Calif.
- Long Beach, Calif.
The new capability will come online in Miami this week and is scheduled to start next week in Cleveland. CBP's office at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, will be able to accelerate broker licenses sometime in October, according to the list.
In the spring of 2010, then-Commissioner Alan Bersin ordered changes and designated $1 million from his personal reserve account to automate a paper-intensive process for vetting and fingerprinting broker candidates.
The first major change involved leveraging the agency's Global Enrollment Centers, which handle fingerprinting and interviews of participants in trusted traveler programs, to manage the application process and verify new brokers.
Previously, background investigations were conducted by sister agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which often had other priorities, and paper fingerprint cards were forwarded to the FBI for criminal history checks.
CBP officials negotiated to take full responsibility of the vetting function and now most checks simply involve an interview of the subject rather than a full-blown series of reference checks as is typically done for government security clearances.
U.S. Customs also conducts some additional checks on the financial health of an applicant because brokers are fiduciary agents for importers, Elena Ryan, acting director for trade facilitation and administration said on the sidelines of the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America's fall conference in Washington last week.
The new process for licensing brokerage company personnel was tested at JFK to make sure front-line officers could adequately review candidates and the system actually saved time, she said.
The demonstration program determined the new system is not overly burdensome on the broker management officers and cargo inspectors who do the interviews.
Personnel at each participating port have undergone two days of extensive training to learn their new duties.
Ryan said the streamlined licensing system was not implemented sooner because CBP, until recently, didn't have the funding to deploy the information technology and do the training around the country.
All the sites can process individual and corporate broker licenses, she added. - Eric Kulisch