Ottawa reopens 2 Nexus offices in effort to address application backlog
The federal government has reopened two NEXUS offices in Ontario in an effort to address a backlog of thousands of travel program applications – but an extra step is being added to the application process.
The Nexus program, which eases the flow of people across the Canada-US border, had offices on both sides of the border closed because of the pandemic.
On Monday, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) announced that offices in Fort Erie and Lansdowne, Ont. Applicants have reopened for interviews – but applicants will now be required to complete a secondary interview on the US side of the border.
In the past, Canadian and US border agents jointly conducted interviews in the same room.
“We are working hard to find creative solutions to reduce wait times, address backlogs and help more commuters obtain Nexus cards,” Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said in the statement. “This new, two-step process is further proof of our commitment to it.”
The backlog sits at more than 300,000 applications with an average processing time of 16 months.
dispute over legal protection
Nexus centers in the US reopened in April. But Canada has not followed through on concerns about providing legal protections to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers working on Canadian soil.
Washington is calling for an extension of those legal protections for its officers working in NEXUS centers — protections that those same officers already receive at pre-evacuation sites at Canadian airports.
This controversy appears to be resolved with this new two-stage interview process, as CBSA officials will conduct interviews in Canadian offices and their American counterparts will complete secondary interviews on the American side.
Mariscott Greenwood, a Washington-based lobbyist and head of the Canadian American Business Council, welcomed the decision.
“It’s not a perfect solution. A perfect solution would be the reopening of Canadian facilities by both employees.” [Canadian and American] officer,” Greenwood said. “But since it looks like that’s not an option … it’s the next best thing.”
A disproportionate amount — 80 percent — of the 1.7 million people who use the program are Canadian.
But last month, a bipartisan group of members of the US Congress sent a letter to their Canadian counterparts on the Canada-US Inter-Parliamentary Group asking for their help in resolving the issue and reopening Canadian offices.
One of the signers of the letter, New York Rep. Brian Higgins praised the reopening of the Canadian offices, but suggested more could be done to facilitate Nexus applications.
“Border management has become more complex than it should have been,” Higgins said in a statement. “We need to find ways to break down barriers at our border to better support the flow of people and goods between neighbors.”
Greenwood said she wishes the Government of Canada would be more “ambitious” and reopen more offices with a two-step interview process.
“It’s a welcome development but I think it needs to move more quickly,” she said.
The CBSA statement said more Nexus offices would reopen at land borders, but did not say when.