Canada’s backlog of Nexus applications balloons to nearly 300,000 despite downturn during pandemic

Yet another unfortunate fail. While not personally affected given our cards are valid until 2024, can understand the frustration of those affected:

Canada’s backlog of Nexus applications has ballooned into the hundreds of thousands, despite a sharp downturn in applicants during the pandemic, prompting blowback from frustrated travellers as clogged airports continue to overflow.

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

Would-be cardholders in the program, which allows pre-approved Canadians to pass through separate, speedy lines when travelling to and from the United States, must be risk-assessed by both the CBSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The American agency reopened its Nexus enrolment centres for applicant interviews on April 19, but centres in Canada remain closed after shuttering in March 2020.

The resulting backlog means some Nexus members are struggling to book sit-downs before their cards expire, as Canadian residents hoping to renew their status can only schedule interviews in fewer than a dozen border community offices where slots are few.

Travelling retirees are among those exasperated by the standstill.

“A lot of snowbirds go to the U.S. frequently. They often go back and forth, and a fair number of them would be Nexus card holders, including myself,” said Jill Wykes, editor of Snowbird Advisor, an online resource for snowbirds.

Wykes questioned why enrolment centres remain closed when many other government offices have been open for months.

“The airports are chaotic, and if you have Nexus you can get through so much more quickly coming and going, whether it’s at the border or the airport,” she said.

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

The CBSA said in an e-mail that Canada and the U.S. are in discussions about when to reopen Canadian enrolment centres.

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

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

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

“I really am having a hard time understanding why nothing was done or processed during that period,” Roy said of the ongoing office closures.

The CBSA said it continues to carry out risk assessments remotely within its standard 30-day timeline for new applicants or those seeking to renew a soon-to-expire card.

However, once both countries have pre-approved the application, “the onus is then on the applicant to schedule an interview at a Nexus/Fast EC (enrolment centre) using the online portal,” the agency said.

It has not set a date for when Canadian enrolment centres will unlock their doors.

Nexus memberships are typically valid for five years, after which they must be renewed. The process involves a risk assessment and a screening interview – for both first-time applicants and long-time card holders – the CBSA said.

Nexus membership declined by 170,814, or nine per cent, to 1.73 million enrollees between 2020 and 2021, according to agency figures.

Between 2018 and 2019, the number of new applications had risen by nearly a third to 262,125. They then plunged to 172,125 in 2020 and 29,705 in 2021. Nonetheless, with enrolment centres shuttered, the pile of partially processed applications continued to mount.

Source: Canada’s backlog of Nexus applications balloons to nearly 300,000 despite downturn during pandemic

ICYMI: Canada hoping U.S. gets on board as it moves to update gender info on NEXUS cards

Interesting to watch in current US administration context:

Canada’s border agency is about to shake up the way it tracks sex and gender information — which could lead to some awkward conversations with Washington.

For the past two years, the federal government has been looking into how to introduce a third gender identifier across federal departments — something beyond checking off “male” or “female” on a form.

The new plan includes displaying gender information (how someone identifies) instead of sex information (biological characteristics) unless absolutely necessary, says an interim report prepared for the clerk of the Privy Council, a copy of which was obtained under access to information.

The draft plan encourages departments to offer M, F and X as identifiers.

It also says the policy overhaul would affect the NEXUS card, a program shared by the U.S. and Canada to help speed up border crossing for frequent, low-risk travellers.

However, changing the card will require negotiations with the Trump administration, which recently banned most transgender people from serving in its military.

Apart from the NEXUS card, the Canada Border Services Agency also issues ID cards for the Fast and Secure Trade Program (FAST) and corporate pilots.

CBSA spokesperson Rebecca Purdy said the department can’t force another country to follow its rules.

“As each of our domestic and international relationships are different (bilaterally and multilaterally), and we cannot impose our policies upon our partners, the CBSA will work to inform them of this government of Canada policy shift and hopefully reach a satisfactory solution wherever possible that respects Canadian laws and values,” she said in an email to CBC.

Frontline training needed

Helen Kennedy is the executive director of Egale Canada, a national LGBT advocacy group. She’s urging the government to put up a good fight with the Americans.

“I don’t think that we can be compromising our human rights, values and principles to accommodate anybody, quite frankly, regardless of who’s in the White House. I do know that there are a lot of governments around the world that are hostile, not just the U.S.,” she said.

“I would anticipate and hope that Canada would stand its ground and push for a more inclusive way of travelling for anybody who identifies as non-binary or trans, or whose gender expression doesn’t match the marker on their passport.”

Kennedy said the policy shift needs to come with training for those on the frontlines.

“It is incredibly stressful for trans and non-binary folk, and for people whose gender expression may not reflect the markers on their passports, to travel anywhere. I think that it’s a good initiative, but we also need to be aware of some of the complications that it brings with it,” she said.

“If we don’t provide the education and training to the folks who are reviewing these documents … if they don’t understand, if they don’t have the language, if they’re not comfortable or familiar with what an X marker can actually mean, then it can be very stressful for the traveller.”

The PCO report says a policy update also would bring the federal government in line with provinces that have made changes already. For example, people in Ontario and Alberta can choose an “X” identifier on their drivers’ licences.

Kennedy said she’d prefer if there were no gender markers at all, but supports the shift.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) already has started down this path.

Gender ‘unspecified’

In 2017 it announced plans to offer a third option for Canadians to identify themselves on a passport. In the interim, people can ask that a free observation sticker be added to their passport or travel document that reads: “The sex of the bearer should read as ‘X,’ indicating that it is unspecified.”

IRCC said it doesn’t know how many Canadian travellers have been refused entry to foreign countries because of their gender identity.

“Before booking, travellers are advised to check with all the countries they are planning to visit or transit through so they can be aware of entry requirements that may affect them,” said a spokesperson in an email.

The PCO report said implementation of the new gender identifier policy could take years and would have significant financial and operational impacts.

It’s not clear when federal forms will be changed officially, but former clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick, whose last day on the job was Wednesday, has said he’s in favour of the current policy direction.

“Given domestic and international movement on this issue, it is clear that the government of Canada must be engaged and must coordinate action to respond at the federal level,” he wrote in a letter to the Treasury Board, also obtained by CBC.

The federal policy change also would affect military IDs, permanent resident and Indian Status cards, work permits, firearm licences and police record check letters.

Source: Canada hoping U.S. gets on board as it moves to update gender info on NEXUS cards