Ontario Nexus applicants wait in limbo as backlog rises to over 333,000

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Ontarians applying to renew their Nexus card may have to wait even longer for an interview, as the Canada Border Service now estimates the current backlog has grown to 333,500, leaving applicants across the country in limbo.

The Nexus program allows pre-approved Canadians to use separate, generally faster lines when traveling to and from the United States. Each applicant must be assessed for risk by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and interviewed. But those endorsements haven’t happened since the pandemic began.

“You have no way to contact anyone live to find out what’s going on. And that’s part of the frustration.” said Keith Lockman, a Mississauga resident, who applied to renew his card in the spring of 2020 but still couldn’t schedule an interview.

Lockman isn’t alone: ​​Many residents of the Greater Toronto Area have been waiting for months to officially renew their cards. At the heart of the matter: Canadian registration centers, where interviews take place, closed in March 2020 and have not reopened. Some experts suggest it’s not just COVID-19 that’s causing the backlog, but also an ongoing problem with a preclearance agreement between the United States and Canada.

The waiting game

During his years of travel, Lockman says the Nexus card has benefited him greatly.

“I can think of at least two trips where I would have missed a connection in the United States if I hadn’t had the Nexus card because I could bypass the line,” said Lockman, who applied to renew his membership. after getting an expiration notice in April 2020.

He said he received conditional approval after applying for a renewal and was instructed to set up an interview. The problem was that the interview centers in Canada were closed and he couldn’t schedule one.

Passengers line up in long lines at customs after getting off planes at Toronto’s Pearson airport. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

Lockman says he was able to schedule a Nexus interview from the US side at the Rainbow Bridge crossing; however, he says the office has changed opening days and his interview has been cancelled. It closed soon after and did not reopen until April.

“Even if I wanted to go back, the best I could do would be October and still nothing in Canada,” Lockman said. To further complicate the matter, he has moved to another city since his initial renewal and says he could not reach anyone to confirm his new contact details.

Mitchell Salz, a Toronto resident, is still awaiting his candidacy to move forward.

“We’re approaching almost 10 months now, and nothing has happened,” Salz said.

Keith Lockman applied for renewal of his Nexus card in the spring of 2020. He is still trying to schedule an interview. (Radio-Canada News)

He says that, unlike Lockman, he never received a renewal notice for his Nexus card and had to reapply after the fact last summer. He says on the online portal it still shows that his approval is pending.

“I’ve called three times, spoken to someone each time, and they say it’s going to be delayed and expect it to be at least six months. And that was maybe seven months ago. months,” Salz said.

“I paid the fees last year… If you’re going to take the money, at least follow it. It’s generally a common courtesy in any transaction.”

“Complexities and Challenges”

Cross-border attorney Laurie Tannous says she gets a lot of Nexus-related calls.

She says that while for many travelers the backlog is an inconvenience, it is more difficult for those who have to cross the border for work.

The problem is that for people who are essential workers, people who have come to rely on the ability to have that trusted status, to go to work, to come back, it’s an impact,” Tannous said. , who is also a Special Advisor to the University of Windsor’s Cross-Border Institute.

As for the closure of Canadian centers, Tannous suggests it’s more complex than just COVID-19, and adds that she hears it’s linked to a agreement between the two countries which allows US precontrollers to be armed in Canada.

Lawyer Laurie Tannous, special adviser to the Cross Border Institute at the University of Windsor, suggests that the closure of Canadian registration centers is also due to complex issues regarding the 2019 preclearance agreement between Canada and the states -United. (Provided by Laurie Tannous)

“There are complexities and challenges in this issue that rightly speak to some of our issues here in Canada from a sovereignty perspective,” she said.

“Whether or not…an American officer or an officer from another country would have the ability to carry a weapon here and then use the weapon, then what would happen?” Tannous added, suggesting the closure of the centers is also linked to unresolved issues related to the deal.

“They were working on these issues…And then COVID hit.”

Canada and the United States “in discussions”, according to the CBSA

In a response to CBC News, the CBSA did not say when its Canadian enrollment centers would be open for interviews, or respond directly to a question about whether the preclearance deal had anything to do with the delays. of reopening. .

“Nexus is a joint program operated by both the Canada Border Services Agency and United States Customs and Border Protection,” the statement said.

“Canada and the United States are in discussions about when to reopen Canadian enrollment centers.”

The CBSA said existing members who renew their membership before it expires will still be able to use their privileges.

Meanwhile, some like Lockman wonder why more of the process can’t be done virtually, including interviews.

“I don’t see how to survey 300,000 people, bearing in mind that every month more will expire. There will be more renewals.”

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