Preclearance, consulates and big deals at risk

In early 2016 the United States and Canada signed an agreement to “further strengthen our relationship and enhance our mutual security, prosperity, and economic competitiveness.” This agreement focused on the US Customs and Border Patrol expanding its pre-clearance facilities in Canada, including two airports and two train stations. That agreement appears to be at risk now, as do the existing preclearance facilities at Canadian airports. This is another in a series of international responses to the Executive Order signed by President Trump on 27 January 2017 restricting immigration and visas for visitors from seven countries in the Middle East.

At issue in Canada is one paragraph in the nation’s Preclearance Act, the law adopted in 1999 that permits the US to operate its facilities on Canadian soil. Specifically, the law requires that all US Preclearance operations adhere to certain Canadian laws in addition to US regulations:

6 (1) Preclearance laws may be administered in Canada in a preclearance area with respect to travellers who seek admission to, and with respect to goods to be imported into, the United States, subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Bill of Rights and the Canadian Human Rights Act.

The Canadian government has not issued a formal statement on the preclearance situation but it has indicated it will offer at least temporary refuge to travelers affected by the ban. Moreover, I have learned that meetings are ongoing among certain high level officials within the Canadian Border Patrol about the impact any changes in the preclearance situation might bring.

Perhaps most significant would be the need to cut all flights from Canada to New York’s LaGuardia Airport and Washington, DC’s Reagan National Airport. Both are considered international airports but lack dedicated immigration facilities and only accept international arrivals from preclearance airports today. As many as 60 daily flights across multiple airlines could be affected by such a move.

Canada is not the only nation reconsidering US preclearance services in light of the Executive Order. In 2015 the US began efforts to expand its preclearance program to other airports around the world, including Amsterdam’s Schiphol. The Dutch government terminated those negotiations on Monday in response to the EO. Ireland is also calling for a review of its participation in the effort based on similar human rights concerns as Canada is considering.

Not only immigrants

While the numbers are not massive today the impact of this ban extends to commercial and government delegations as well. The US has a Consulate General in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. Consular staff – locals hired to assist the US officials – cannot travel to the US for training. And local authorities are not eligible for full diplomatic status so that cannot be used to beat the ban.

On the commercial front there are large deals at risk. GE recently inked a $1.5 billion contract in Iraq, the type of deal that generally has the buyer come inspect the merchandise before it is packed up for shipping. Those inspectors are no longer eligible to enter the United States. That’s a $1.5 BILLION deal – and the associated jobs – at risk of falling through.

We need to talk

Many visitors to the United States were eligible for the Visa Interview Waiver Program. This allowed some travelers applying for or renewing a visa (i.e. not eligible for the Visa Waiver Program) to complete the paperwork and receive the visa without presenting themselves at a Consulate or Embassy for an interview with US officials. That program is suspended meaning all visitors who require a visa must now interview. In addition to this change creating a massive burden on the consular staff the government has canceled all interviews in that program for three months. Getting an appointment will not be easy once the program reopens, leaving many US visitors blocked indefinitely.


And then there are the revocations instigated by the US government. A number of travelers previously vetted, either for visas or for the Global Entry and NEXUS expedited screening processes are discovering that their credentials have been revoked.

Whether it is a visa or Global Entry approval being revoked the announced intentions do not seem to line up with the behavior effected. The people with visas issued were vetted by State Department officials and determined to not pose a threat to the United States. Those approved for Global Entry underwent and passed an additional layer of screening. Particularly for the travelers with Global Entry or NEXUS this move presents significant economic risks. People who are willing to invest the time and money for the expedited screening services are generally frequent business travelers, not one-off tourists. The potential ripple effect as that business shifts away from the United States should not be underestimated.

Revoking these credentials does not improve the security of the United States unless the new administration would have us believe that all previously issued visas were based on a flawed screening regimen. Moreover, the preclearance program’s success is predicated on keeping “undesirables” off of US soil completely. By creating new policies that place the preclearance facilities at risk the government creates a situation where more of these travelers will actually arrive in the US. It also places cooperation with foreign governments at risk, a move that reduces the ability of the US government to appropriately gather and analyze intelligence.

This is far bigger than a few travelers being detained or rejected at airports. It makes the USA weaker both economically and physically.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


    1. When the manufacturing jobs disappear because the people buying the stuff cannot get in to the US to take delivery then it does affect his base. Maybe a $1.5bn deal isn’t significant to GE but I’m betting that’s not really the case.

      Block a few hundred million in Boeing planes to Iran and that’s affecting that same industrial base in states across the country.

      Pretending this is only about immigrants is a great way to lose sight of what’s really happening.

    2. I meant the the pre-clearance/consular aspects not being relevant to his base. I think we are in agreement on GE. I think Boeing is going suffer from ME carriers down the road too.

    3. Yeah, most manufacturing purchases don’t require someone to accept in person at the factory. However, as an employee of an international company I wonder how this will affect our European employees here on long term visas. If reciprocity goes, that’s even more trouble as there’s at least a German a week coming here.

  1. On another note, I wonder what losing preclearance in Ireland would do to the Aer Lingus flight to BDL. If Canada stops doing it, I could see it staying since there would be enough reason to reopen the Customs area but not just for one flight.

  2. This potentially is good news for the UK. I suspect it will pick up a fair amount of the business activity that the US rejects. And it’s very high quality business, with high earners paying significant taxes.

    1. Perhaps you missed the whole Brexit vote thing. 😉

      The UK is not going to be able to pull these jobs in with its similar isolationist practices. UK-based companies are opening shops in the EU to be able to shift employees and operations to a location where they can guarantee safe flow of people and product to consumers.

  3. The removal of pre-clearance in Canada will impact not only business traffic but also tourism. People will not want to put up with the CBP nonsense offsite. This is very fluid and uncertainty impacts travel decisions. It is impacting mine.

    1. More hilarious would be US CBP stationed in Canada pulling any shenanigans and expecting the RCMP and/or Canadian government to go along with their reindeer games.

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