Nearly 300,000 Canadians await Nexus approval as backlog grows

The backlog of Nexus applications in Canada has soared to hundreds of thousands, despite a sharp drop in the number of applications during the pandemic, sending a blowback from frustrated travelers as congested airports continue to overflow.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) says 295,133 Nexus requests have yet to be processed due to ongoing office closures caused by COVID-19.

Potential cardholders in the program, which allows pre-approved Canadians to travel through separate, fast lines when traveling to and from the United States, must be assessed by the CBSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The U.S. agency reopened its Nexus enrollment centers for candidate interviews on April 19, but centers in Canada remain closed after closing in March 2020.

The resulting backlog means some Nexus members are struggling to book appointments before their cards expire, as Canadian residents wishing to renew their status can only schedule interviews in less than a dozen border community offices where slots are scarce.

Motorists wait to enter Canada at the Douglas-Peace Arch border crossing in Surrey, British Columbia. The United States reopened its Nexus enrollment centers in April, but Canadian centers remain closed. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“Chaotic” and frustrating

Homeless retirees are among those who are exasperated by the status quo.

“A lot of snowbirds travel to the United States frequently. They often come back and forth, and quite a few of them would be Nexus cardholders, myself included,” said Jill Wykes, editor in leader of Snowbird Advisor, an online resource for snowbirds.

Wykes asked why registration centers remain closed when many other government offices have been open for months.

“Airports are chaotic, and if you have Nexus you can come and go much faster, whether it’s at the border or at the airport,” she said.

“The whole situation is very frustrating, that the government did not anticipate this pent-up demand, which had been anticipated for two years.”

The CBSA said in an email that Canada and the United States are discussing when Canadian enrollment centers will reopen.

“Although the extent of the backlog in 2019 is not known, I can tell you that the backlog has increased significantly from pre-pandemic levels due to the closure of registration centers in March 2020 for public health reasons,” spokeswoman Rebecca Purdy said.

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Meanwhile, the Fast program for cross-border commercial truck drivers now has a backlog of 11,018, the CBSA said.

“This issue has created challenges for many cross-border fleets across Canada. While companies have learned to adapt their operations and manage their available drivers to alleviate these concerns as much as possible, the reopening of centers is becoming increasingly critical,” said Canadian Trucking. Alliance spokesman Marco Beghetto said in an email.

Jacques Roy, professor of transportation management at HEC Montreal business school, says the Nexus backlog is affecting business and leisure travelers. It also adds pressure on airports already struggling with security staff shortages and endless queues.

“I’m really struggling to understand why nothing was done or addressed during this time,” Roy said of the ongoing office closures.

The CBSA said it is continuing to perform remote risk assessments within its standard 30-day timeframe for new applicants or those looking to renew a card that is expiring soon.

However, once both countries have pre-approved the application, “it is then the applicant’s responsibility to schedule an interview at a Nexus/Fast EC [enrolment centre] using the online portal,” the agency said.

He has not set a date when the Canadian enrollment centers will open.

Nexus memberships are generally valid for five years, after which they must be renewed. The process includes a risk assessment and a screening interview – for new applicants and long-time cardholders – the CBSA said.

Nexus membership fell by 170,814, or 9%, to 1.73 million enrollees between 2020 and 2021, according to agency figures.

Between 2018 and 2019, the number of new applications had increased by almost a third to reach 262,125. They then plunged to 172,125 in 2020 and 29,705 in 2021. Nevertheless, with the closure of registration centers, the pile of partially processed requests continued to pile up.

Long lines of travelers at Vancouver International Airport. “Airports are chaotic, and if you have Nexus you can get through a lot quicker,” said Jill Wykes, editor of Snowbird Advisor. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)