Last updated: 02:00 PM ET, Fri August 19 2016

Could the Pre-clearance Trend Make Travel Safer and Quicker?

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | August 19, 2016

Could the Pre-clearance Trend Make Travel Safer and Quicker?

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

New plans by customs and immigration authorities in the United States and Japan could significantly lower the amount of time that international travelers have to spend in airports. 

A growing trend

Japan recently announced plans to launch pre-clearance programs at overseas airports. Basically, this means that Japanese immigration and customs officials will have checkpoints at select foreign hubs. Travelers flying to Japan will be able to complete customs and immigration procedures at these departure airports. 

The ultimate goal, it would seem, is to make travel smoother for tourists, especially for those who will be coming to Tokyo in four years for the next Summer Olympics. By that time, Japan hopes to have 40 million tourist arrivals. Right now, the number of international arrivals stands at about 20 million per year. 

The pre-clearance checkpoints will be tested in South Korea and Taiwan. Japan's program could eventually come to the U.S., but even if it doesn’t, U.S.-based travelers going to Japan may benefit from it. About one-third of all international arrivals to the country come from Taiwan and South Korea. This means that there will be 33 percent fewer people queuing at immigration at Narita, Haneda or Kansai. Officials say that the wait time for people who still have to go through the checkpoints in Japan should be 20 minutes at the most. 

U.S. also expanding pre-clearance

The U.S. also has a pre-clearance program, but travelers might not be aware of it unless they have recently traveled from certain destinations. After a recent agreement between the U.S. and Canada, pre-clearance for U.S.-bound travelers is available at every major Canadian hub. Travelers in Bermuda, the Bahamas and Aruba can also pass through U.S. customs and immigration while still on the islands.

Read More: US, Canada to Expand Pre-Clearance Program

Both of Ireland’s major hubs, Dublin and Shannon, offer pre-clearance to U.S.-bound fliers. Dublin recently opened a special “pre-clearance lounge” where passengers who have already passed through US immigration can wait for their transatlantic flights. 

Obviously, the U.S. has many more international arrivals than Japan, so such pre-clearance programs do not affect immigration lines at U.S. airports all that much. However, the service does make it faster for travelers coming from Ireland or Canada or the select Caribbean islands. 

Plans for further expansion

U.S. customs authorities have plans to bring pre-clearance checkpoints to other major airports around the world. American officials are in talks to open up pre-clearance facilities at London Heathrow and in other major hubs like Madrid, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Oslo and Stockholm.  

Pre-clearance can increase security

What about the level of security? According to a CBP press release announcing the expansion of the pre-clearance program, performing immigration checks before boarding can actually increase the level of security. “The United States holds the identification and interdiction of threats prior to arrival as one of the principal tenets of national security.  Pre-clearance is a critical tool which supports our efforts to identify and address international threats at the earliest possible opportunity and supports our efforts to build a high level of cooperation between CBP and host governments around the world.” 

Whether bringing lower wait times or increasing the level of security, the trend of immigration and customs pre-clearance could eventually make travel safer and easier for international fliers.   

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