U.S. citizens applying to become customs brokers should be able to obtain their licenses in a quarter of the time it now takes once U.S. Customs completes a nationwide rollout of a new system for processing their applications.
Licenses are being approved in less than three months compared to the normal nine to 12 months under a pilot program underway at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and Chicago’s O’Hare airport, Brenda Brockman Smith, the agency’s executive director of trade policy and programs, told a large audience at the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America’s annual conference in Hollywood, Fla., late April.
The streamlined process should be expanded to 14 additional ports of entry by the end of the fiscal year, she added.
A person wishing to transact customs business on behalf of others must pass a difficult exam and receive a license and permit from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The broker industry has complained that it takes too long from the time someone passes the exam until they receive their license.
License approval can actually take up to two years in some cases, Alan Klestadt, the NCBFAA’s general counsel on customs matters, said.
The problem involves background checks to make sure applicants can be trusted to handle financial transactions between importers and the government. Delays are common because the investigations are a low priority with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and are compounded by the use of paper fingerprint cards that are forwarded to the FBI for criminal history checks.
Two years ago, then-CBP Commissioner Alan Bersin reached agreement with ICE to turn over the vetting responsibility to CBP and released $1 million from his personal reserve account to automate major portions of the process.
The reforms include interviewing the subject rather than contacting multiple neighbors, friends and colleagues for reference checks as is typically done for government security clearances, and using CBP’s existing Global Entry system to manage the verification.
Global Entry is a fee-based trusted traveler program that enables pre-approved people entering the country to avoid customs lines by using electronic kiosks that read their digitized passport or permanent resident card, take a fingerprint scan and accept the customs declaration.
The new broker license reviews take advantage of CBP’s existing infrastructure for interviewing, electronically fingerprinting and enrolling people in Global Entry. Under Global Entry, background checks are done electronically by tapping the U.S. government’s terrorism watch lists and criminal history databases.
The 16 ports that will be able to handle broker applications are locations where CBP has Global Entry enrollment centers. There are 25 total Global Entry enrollment centers.
CBP has to make a couple of minor fixes to the technology platform and train personnel at ports of entry on how to use the new process before the pilot program can be expanded across the country, Brockman Smith told American Shipper
Speeding up broker licenses is part of a broader initiative started under Bersin to modernize CBP’s processes and make the agency more responsive to the needs of companies and travelers that conduct business across the border.
Another change that benefits brokers occurred in February when CBP for the first time automated the sign-up process for taking the broker exam. People can register and pay the $200 fee at Pay.gov, which is accessible through the broker page on CBP’s Website.
CBP registered 1,500 people through the new system to take the broker exam in April, Brockman Smith said. —Eric Kulisch