Customs and Border Protection Operations
Courtesy Department of Homeland Security

Airports are often the low point during any trip, but passing through customs can be a particularly cruel experience. Now, however, the Obama Administration has approved a series of new initiatives and procedures to make international arrivals in the U.S. a little bit easier.

The most significant change, in terms of streamlining the process, is probably the addition of 340 new automated passport kiosks. According to the White House statement, these kiosks — which I’ve found to be effective if somewhat clunky — reduce wait times by “up to 30 percent.” The 340 kiosks will cost $20 million, or about $58,824 each.

Other new developments include:

• Air passengers will no longer have to fill out that paper form — the 6059b Customs Declaration, currently passed out on the plane — by the end of 2016.

• New technology will let travelers submit passport information via their smartphones or tablets by the end of 2016.

• There will be four new instructional videos “providing useful information on the arrival processes for both U.S. citizens and foreign visitors.”

The Obama Administration also set a goal to “provide a best-in-class international arrivals experience,” and a task force is being established to try to meet that goal.

In addition to plans for the future, the statement claims that some progress already has been made. Waiting periods for visas to countries such as China and Brazil are down from a few months to a few days, tourist and business visas to China now last ten years, and the State Department is generally issuing far more visas.

How much these changes impact individual travelers will vary, but there’s no question the U.S. international travel experience needs serious improvement. I’m reminded of returning through Dallas about a year ago when I had three hours to go through customs before catching a domestic flight to my final destination. After waiting in a tortuously long line I just barely made the flight, though many other travelers around me weren’t so fortunate. That was a low point among my trips, but most travelers I know who regularly fly into or out of the U.S. have experienced something similar.

— Jim Dalrymple II


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.

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