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Congress Moves on Long-Awaited Border Pre-Clearance Bill

For anybody who has flown out of Vancouver International Airport or from a handful of other major Canadian airports, U.S. border pre-clearance is likely something they are at least somewhat familiar with. Border pre-clearance allows U.S. customs officials to screen travellers heading to the U.S. while still in Canada. Now, following the passage of an important piece of legislation by the U.S. Congress, border pre-clearance will soon expand to other modes of transportation, including trains leaving from British Columbia. Proponents of the expansion say it will help reduce congestion at border crossings and make visiting the United States easier without compromising security.

Pre-clearance bill passes

For years, the Canadian government has been pushing for an expansion to the border pre-clearance program, but has seen little action in getting the necessary legislation looked at by the U.S. Congress. However, as CBC News reports, the U.S. Congress finally passed the legislation recently and sent it to President Obama’s desk for his signature (which it is widely expected to get). The speed at which the legislation was ultimately passed came as somewhat of a surprise, especially given that complementary legislation will still need to be passed in the Canadian Parliament next year (where, again, it is also widely expected to pass).

The U.S. version of the bill is called the Promoting Travel, Commerce and National Security Act. The companion piece of legislation in Canada is Bill C-23.

Expanding border pre-clearance

The new legislation would create a pilot project for border pre-clearance for trains crossing the U.S. border. The pilot project would be for some border-crossing trains leaving from Montreal and for the Rocky Mountaineer in British Columbia. The pilot project means that U.S. customs agents will be set up within Canada, where they will be able to screen passengers on trains leaving for the U.S. before those trains actually reach the border. The legislation also clarifies that if border guards commit crimes while within Canada they will be tried in the U.S.

Proponents of the pre-clearance program have celebrated the passage of the legislation and say they hope it will eventually be expanded to include buses, ferries, cruise ships, and cars. Security concerns since 9/11 have led to significant congestion at Canada-U.S. border crossings, which have caused frustration for travellers and the loss of trade for businesses.

Immigration and visa help

For anybody that regularly travels to the U.S., whether for business or pleasure, the expansion of the pre-border clearance program will likely be a welcomed development. However, this legislation does not change the fact that getting a visa to visit, work in, or move to the United States can still be extremely challenging. For anybody who has concerns about U.S. visas should get in touch with an immigration lawyer licensed to practice law on both sides of the border. Such a lawyer will be able to provide advice and guidance to help streamline the visa process and to help avoid the hassles that other visa applicants often encounter.