ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A short waiting list is drawing hundreds of American tourists and businesspeople to Albuquerque to pick up preapproved clearance passes aimed at helping international travelers quickly move through customs.
The "Global Entry Pass" lets low-risk travelers bypass the traditional U.S. Customs and Border Patrol inspection when arriving into the U.S. from abroad, and instead use kiosks to re-enter the country at select airports. The passes have been shown to reduce wait times by 70 percent, officials said.
And unlike airports and enrollment centers in larger cities, the Albuquerque International Sunport Airport has no backlog to get them. That makes it one of the quickest sites in the nation to obtain a pass, officials said.
Some visitors are taking advantage of the quick turnaround by also squeezing in a mini vacation to popular New Mexico hotspots like Santa Fe and Taos, according to customs agents.
U.S. citizens and permanent residents can apply for a pass by filling out an application online and paying a $100 fee.
Federal officials then perform a background check and book appointments with travelers who earn initial approval. That's where travelers can see which locations have the earliest openings. Often, it's Albuquerque, according to globalentry.gov.
With the passes, which are good for five years, travelers can use around 300 kiosks at more than 30 U.S. airports. Travelers just scan their fingerprints, and a receipt is generated for easy exit through customs and immigration.
But getting a pass often can take weeks or months, since travelers are required to schedule an in-person interview with customs agents from one of nearly 40 enrollment centers across the county. Most centers are in major hubs, and federal officials have opened satellite offices in some cities like Atlanta and Houston to help reduce waiting times for appointments.
It's a different story in New Mexico, where officials can sometimes book interview appointments within a day of an application's approval, said Tracy Thorpe, Albuquerque director for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.