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Preclearance talks push on for flights from Sweden to Dominican Republic

WASHINGTON – Two more countries have signed agreements to bring Preclearance to their airports, but negotiations continue as lawmakers raised questions Tuesday about how airports are chosen for the popular program.

Airports in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, and Stockholm have signed agreements to have Preclearance, said Todd Owen, executive assistant to the commissioner of field operations for Customs and Border Protection.

“We’re basically just waiting for the host country to address the infrastructure issues and any of their legal authority matters that they need to address,” Owen told the House Homeland Security subcommittee on transportation security.

Negotiations continue with 10 other countries to reach agreements to bring Preclearance to their airports, Owen said.

Preclearance allows international travelers to clear customs and immigration checks before boarding planes abroad. The advantage to travelers is avoiding long lines after getting off a long flight – while also allowing Customs and Border Protection to screen travelers before they even board the plane.

“In many ways, I see Preclearance as the gold standard in our counter-terrorism efforts overseas at last points of departure,” Owen said. “We are expanding.”

The panel chairman, Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., said it might be worth demanding airports with higher security risks to meet Preclearance requirements.

“Lord knows, based on the secure briefings that we’ve all had, that the vulnerabilities are getting more difficult to detect,” Katko said. “That may be a way to basically say (to airports with direct flights to the U.S.), ‘If you’re not on board, you’re not doing your job. We can’t take the risk.’”

Preclearance screens about 18 million travelers arriving from 15 airports, mostly in Canada, the Caribbean, Ireland and Abu Dhabi. The program began in the 1950s as a convenience for travel from Canada.

But with the expansion to Abu Dhabi three years ago, U.S. officials are inviting more countries to participate if they will pay for facilities and staffing needed.

“The resources are now coming from the other countries that want to have us there,” Owen said.

Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the full committee, asked for Owen to list for lawmakers how many passengers arrive from each Preclearance airport. He worried that airports were chosen for their ability to pay to participate, in addition to their security risk.

“Some of us think we are creating a bigger problem because those who pay get Preclearance and those who can’t participate by paying, and might have two or three times more people coming,” Thompson said.

Countries must volunteer to participate. Airports that have explored the process include Bogota, Colombia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Edinburgh, Scotland; Kansai, Japan; Milan, Italy; Reykjavik, Iceland; Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo, Brazil; and Saint Martin in the Caribbean.

Owen said locations are chosen based on risk assessments and reimbursement.

“It’s based on risk. The negotiations that we have place Preclearance in places that we have it, like Abu Dhabi, where we believe there is a strategic importance to be there.”

The cost to the host country only makes sense with lots of passengers, he adds. “Very small airports would probably not embrace Preclearance.”

More than 11,000 flights from Punta Cana International Airport carried nearly 1.6 million travelers to the U.S. last year. More than 1,700 flights from Stockholm Arlanda Airport carried nearly 400,000 travelers to the U.S.

Source: Usatoday.com

Sep 26, 2017

Category: DR News |

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Last updated November 19, 2017 at 11:32 PM
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