Canada and the United States said Tuesday they expect Canadian Nexus enrolment centres to reopen in the spring alongside a new program allowing U.S.-led interviews to be conducted at Canadian airports.
The deal, reached on the sidelines of the North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico City, is intended to further reduce the backlog of applicants for the trusted-traveller program between the two countries, which has been caught up in a diplomatic dispute.
Canadian Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a joint statement that interviews with U.S. border agents will soon begin taking place at Canadian airport facilities that already provide pre-clearance services for travellers heading stateside.
Nexus applicants, who must be interviewed by both Canadian and U.S. authorities, would sit down with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials for that portion of the process prior to travelling to the U.S., provided they are travelling imminently and leaving from an airport where customs preclearance is an option.
International airports in Canada that offer preclearance services include those in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa and Winnipeg, as well as Pearson International Airport in Toronto.
“The work reaffirms the cooperative and effective advantages and relationship Canada and the United States share in managing an efficient border between our two countries, to the great benefit of citizens of both countries,” the joint statement said.
The announcement marks the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic that U.S. interviews will be allowed on Canadian soil. But it remains a far cry from how Nexus interviews have traditionally been conducted in both countries, with applicants sitting down for an in-person interview that’s jointly conducted by officers from the two agencies in the same room.
The U.S. reopened its 13 Nexus centres in April to allow that joint interview process to continue as normal. But CBP has insisted Canada grant its agents the same legal protections they enjoy on U.S. soil before returning to Canadian Nexus centres, which Ottawa has refused to entertain.
As a workaround, Canada and the U.S. began allowing Canadian applicants to be jointly interviewed at American land border crossings late last year, in order to begin addressing a backlog that reached as high as 350,000 applicants by early fall 2022.
Mendicino and Mayorkas said Tuesday that hours at those centres have been expanded while staff have accelerated approval for over 80 per cent of renewing applicants.
Since October, according to Tuesday’s joint statement, a record-breaking 203,000 enrolments have been completed and the net backlog has been reduced by 100,000 applicants.
Migration, Haiti discussed at ‘Three Amigos’ summit
Canadian officials, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, are attending the “Three Amigos” summit with leaders from the U.S. and Mexico to discuss a range of issues, including migration and economic cooperation.
At a joint media availability Tuesday afternoon, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador praised Trudeau for Canada’s temporary visa program for migrant workers, which he said has benefitted 25,000 Mexican applicants.
Lopez Obrador appeared to compare the Canadian program to U.S. immigration policy, which has remained a thorny political issue for decades. U.S. President Joe Biden, who also attended the summit, has been criticized by conservative lawmakers for his response to an influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“This is a path to follow for orderly migration,” Lopez Obrador said while speaking about the Canadian visa program.
“Prime Minister Trudeau is a great ally of Mexico.”
Asked about Canada’s response to the ongoing crisis in Haiti — another topic of discussion at the summit — Trudeau repeated past remarks that Ottawa will only act based on a political consensus of Haitians.
Haitian President Ariel Henry has called for an international military intervention to allow for humanitarian aid to flow into the country, which has been paralyzed by gangs that have taken over the capital and wreaked violence, and to create conditions safe enough to hold an election.
Washington, which supports the idea, has said Canada would be an ideal country to lead such a force.
Ottawa has responded by slapping sanctions on top Haitian officials deemed complicit with the gangs responsible for the crisis and sending aid to the country.
“We’re going to make sure what we do this time allows for the Haitian people to get this situation under control,” Trudeau said Tuesday.
Trudeau also reaffirmed the importance of Canada’s recently-announced critical minerals strategy to helping North America fill supply chain gaps created by the pandemic and the region’s shift away from suppliers like China.