The new NEXUS enrollment center in Birch Bay Square has been open for less than a month, but it’s already shown significant results.
The NEXUS frequent traveler program offers cardholders expedited crossing through the U.S. and Canadian borders. Since its start in 2002, the overcrowded office at the Pacific Highway border crossing has been plagued with lengthy enrollment times due to lack of staff and procession capacity.
Len Saunders, an attorney for the Immigration Law Firm in Blaine, frequently helps clients obtain NEXUS passes. He said he’s seen a remarkable improvement in the wait times since the new office opened. Saunders said on average it used to take his clients six months or more to get their NEXUS pass, even if they signed up online. Enrollment centers in Seattle and Vancouver still have backlogs of up to eight months.
“I’ve had two clients, one a renewal and one a first time applicant, and in both cases their application was approved in three days, and they got their interview three days after that,” Saunders said. “The first time it happened, I thought it must be a fluke, but two people in a row getting their NEXUS in less than a week is incredible.”
Saunders said he’s been amazed at how quickly the application process has sped up, and credits the new center for the improvement.
“I’ve been practicing law in Blaine since 2002, just after they started the NEXUS program, and in all that time I’ve never seen an application go through so quickly,” Saunders said. “I think it’s a direct result of them moving the office. It shows that they’re doing something right.”
Mike Milne, public affairs officer for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the new enrollment center is operating exactly how CBP hoped it would.
“The whole purpose of expanding was to reduce wait times, so we’re thrilled to hear that it’s working,” Milne said. The Birch Bay Square enrollment center is now the largest Trusted Traveler enrollment center in the national system. The center has doubled the number of appointments taken per day, from 150 to 300. The center is located close to the border but not so close as to cause congestion, and has ample parking, which was previously limited.
Since the center has only been open for a few weeks, Milne said his office didn’t have any data giving average wait times for a NEXUS pass, and he didn’t know if the short processing times would become the new norm.
“We didn’t have a specific time in mind for getting people through the application process,” Milne said. “We just wanted to reduce it, and it seems so far we have.”
More than a million people use the NEXUS pass, and about 80 percent of those users are Canadian, according to Milne.