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A NEXUS card and a Canadian passport are pictured in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. A New York congressman wants to add some Zoom to the sluggish effort to clear a bilateral backlog of Nexus trusted-traveller applications. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean KilpatrickSean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

What is a Nexus card, and how do you apply for one?

Nexus is an immigration program aimed at facilitating travel from Canada to the U.S. for pre-approved travellers. After an application process, travellers receive a Nexus card that they can use at land, marine and air borders to cross more quickly and efficiently into the other country.

The benefits of the Nexus program include reduced waiting times at designated airports and land borders thanks to dedicated lanes and kiosks. A Nexus card can be used instead of other travel documents at locations that allow it, but it is recommended to bring a passport or permanent resident card as well in case proof of citizenship or residence status is required.

Who can apply for a Nexus card?

To apply to the Nexus program, travellers must be approved by both the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Applicants who pass a comprehensive background check and have no disqualifying criminal history are invited to visit an enrolment centre to finalize their membership and complete two interviews, one with a customs officer from the U.S. and another with a Canadian one. Nexus memberships are valid for five years and the application costs US$50 for anyone over 18 years old.

What is causing the Nexus application backlog?

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada and the U.S. closed their Nexus enrolment centres, effectively putting interviews for new applicants on hold indefinitely. In November, 2021, U.S. customs reopened Nexus enrolment centres on their side of the border, but a dispute between the two countries has caused Canadian centres to remain closed.

The dispute, which stems from Canada and the U.S. failing to agree on legal protections for U.S. CBP officers who work in Canada, resulted in a current backlog of about 274,000 applicants.

On March 20, the federal government said Nexus would fully ramp back up within five weeks by April 24.

A compromise announced in January lets Canadian border interview Nexus applicants separately from U.S. agents at eight Canadian airports, rather than together like before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CBSA says enrolment centres will reopen for applicant sit-downs at the Halifax and Winnipeg airports on March 27, followed by a staggered reopening at the six other airports where customs preclearance is an option, including the final two in Toronto and Ottawa on April 24.

What is the current state of the Nexus backlog?

The CBSA said in July the number of Nexus applications had ballooned by 21 per cent in just three months to nearly 342,000, though Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the backlog had shrunk by about 100,000 by late January.

How to apply for a Nexus card

Despite the backlog causing long interview waiting times, some travellers may wish to submit new Nexus applications. To do so, Canadians must fill out their applications online on the Trusted Traveller Programs System.

As part of the application, travellers must upload a digital copy of their proof of citizenship, and driver’s licence if applicable, and supply four years of history of residential addresses and places of employment. Additionally, applicants must provide a list of countries other than the U.S., Canada, and Mexico they have travelled to in the past four years.

Once approved, applicants will be invited to complete their interviews at an enrolment centre.

What alternatives to Nexus do travellers have?

Some Canadian citizens heading for the U.S. without a Nexus card can use another program, called Mobile Passport Control (MPC) to speed up their airport experience.

MPC allows eligible travellers to submit their passport information and customs declaration through an application on their phone ahead of time, allowing them to use a designated line to go through U.S. customs, typically ensuring shorter waiting times and less congestion.

MPC is available at three Canadian airports: Montreal Trudeau International Airport, Toronto Pearson International Airport, and Vancouver International Airport. Another 31 U.S. international airports support MPC, as well as four seaports of entry.