What is Global Entry?
Just for a quick snapshot, Global Entry is an initiative by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that allows travelers expedited entry into the United States through a kiosk. Travelers who have Global Entry go through an application and interview process and are deemed to be low-risk before receiving it. Global Entry is at specific airports, but most major airports and even many smaller airports already have Global Entry kiosks. In the summer of 2017, the CBP and the US announced that Indian citizens were now eligible for the Global Entry program (GEP). India joined just a handful of other countries who are also eligible for the program.
Why did I apply for Global Entry?
I was always a little envious of those that had Global Entry, especially when I would see them coasting past us in the immigration hall as I struggled to work one of those kiosks at JFK or waited in a long, winding line at Newark. Even once I started flying Etihad normally, it was always a long line at the preclearance facility, while the two Global Entry kiosks were almost always empty and for anyone using them, they’d be through in a matter of minutes. Despite being a student who does not fly back and forth extremely often, I saw the value in Global Entry. As someone who values the airport experience, despite the benefits offered to me by the US Preclearance facility in Abu Dhabi, it did mean having to leave the lounge earlier or stressing a little bit more about missing my flight. With Global Entry, that would not be as necessary. However, I recognized that as a student on a F1 visa, I may not seem like the ideal candidate to the Government of India (which I will touch more on later) or the CBP for the program. I thought it over for a few weeks and upon realizing I could take advantage of the Global Entry credit offered by a relative’s American Express Business Platinum card, I thought why not; if I was not approved, I would not have been out $100. So in the first week of August 2017 I applied for the program and that is where my long adventure began.
The 10 Month Wait for Global Entry Conditional Approval
In this post, I am going to try to both tell you about my process and also explain what the process is like overall. However, keep in mind that it has been almost a year since I applied so things could have changed. Additionally, when I applied I did so on the old Trusted Traveler Program (TTP) website so things may be slightly different.
To start the process, I filled out the application on the GOES website, which is lengthy. It requires you to fill out a few different things that will necessitate jogging your memory like employment history, addresses, and countries visited in the last few years. I found it useful to have my current and expired passports with me to look through immigration stamps to ensure I did not leave anything out. I believe this is where I paid the $100 application fee. After submitting the application, I was soon prompted to make an appointment at the Passport Seva Kendra (PSK) to verify my GEP application. I believe that there was an additional fee of 500 Rupees (might have been 1000 Rupees) that needed to be paid. Something to note about GEP for Indian citizens is that it is a process that involves both the US and Indian governments, which I will touch on later. Also note that for now, verifications have to happen at passport offices in India and cannot be completed at consulates elsewhere.
Passport Seva Kendra and Police Verification
For anyone who has been to the PSK in India, you know how long, arduous, and redundant going through it can be. I am happy to say that this was a little quicker because I wasn’t applying for a new or renewing my passport, but it still required a lot of waiting around. It was pretty similar to the process for getting a new passport or renewing one in terms of documents. I would recommend having multiple copies of your passport and maybe one or two copies of the page of your passport that has your US visa on it. Additionally, a copy of your Aadhar and anything else you may feel is relevant.
My only worry at the PSK, which somewhat reaffirmed my thoughts about being a F1 visa holder applying for Global Entry, was when of the officers asked me why I needed it as a student. In my broken Hindi I attempted to explain that I go back and forth a few times a year and it would be useful. I was given a slip of paper and told that the next step would be a police verification at my home. Shortly after my visit, my application’s status changed to “police verification initiated.” After a few days waiting, I decided to visit my local police station to see if there was any way to speed up the process and after arriving there, they also ended up asking to look through some documents and said they needed a passport sized photo. After completing those formalities, I was told a police officer would be at my home the next day to complete the police verification. The cop was there the next day and I remember the process being painless, I think I may have had to get a letter from my building attesting that I did live there and potentially from two recommendations who could also attest the same. My application’s status remained the same for a bit, but eventually changed to (and remained for a long time):
“GEP Verification Process has been initiated on your application. Once inputs from all the concerned Government Authorities are received, the Report will be shared with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). No queries would be entertained in relation to your GEP application status at the Passport Offices and PSP Call Centre. You may contact CBP for further updates on the processing of your GEP application.”
Playing the Waiting Game
From August until the beginning of January, I would check my application’s status at least once a week, often more and be met with the same status. I would also keep checking on the TTP website and would see the same pending review screen I always did. I did reach out to the CBP once and they gave me the same response everyone had been getting that they were waiting on the Indian government. I believe in early October I started seeing that people who were more active in finding out the status of their applications were finding that the applications had to be approved through multiple government offices, including the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Home Affairs and that it would be a while for anyone to see clearances. I had more or less expected a long wait, especially having applied within the six weeks of implementation and would still check but was not expecting much.
In the first week of January, I saw the status of my application change to something along the lines of:
“Application is under review at RPO.”
I had some hope that at this point, something was being done and I’d receive some update with my application soon, but pretty soon after it changed to “under review,” it changed back to “GEP verification…” I resigned to the fact that my application probably would not see movement for a while and largely forgot about it, I started checking about once every two weeks.
While I wasn’t checking my application much, every once in a while I would be looking at two FlyerTalk threads where people were updating the status of their applications. I did see some people get approved very early on, but around March-April, I started seeing a lot more people getting conditional approvals. However, a lot of them were those on H1-B visas and/or those with permanent residency in the US. As an international student on a F1 visa, I was again not very hopeful about my chances. I would still check the PSK and TTP portals, but without much hope. I did start monitoring the FlyerTalk threads much more though and started seeing people who applied in September and October start getting their conditional approvals so it seemed like chances were in freefall.
Who Said Miracle’s Aren’t Possible?
On June 22nd, 2018 – 318 days after I applied I finally got an e-mail from the CBP that there was a change in the status of my application. While that could have meant that I was denied conditional approval, I was happy to finally have some sort of answer to this and a (semi)-end to the journey. I logged into the TTP website and was both relieved and excited to see that I had been conditionally approved for Global Entry.
While I have now been conditionally approved, there is one more thing to do before I can take advantage of Global Entry and be one of those people skipping the lines during immigration – an interview. Many of the major airports in the US have Global Entry Interview centers and they have also started rolling out an enrollment on arrival program which does not require you to come back to the airport at a different time. There are also a few international locations like Doha’s airport, the US Embassy in Singapore, Munich, Frankfurt, Berlin, and London. However, except Singapore, the other 4 are listed as temporary locations.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about applying for Global Entry, especially as an Indian or non-US citizen!