February 25th, 2010
I travel to the US fairly frequently and, as a result of the lengthy delays after the foiled terrorist incident last December 25, I decided to join the Nexus program. Nexus is a voluntary program in which travelers who are qualified and willing to provide an iris scan can avoid lineups at both Canada and US immigration. They do this by checking in at an electronic kiosk that does an iris scan and matches it with the data on record.
When I googled Nexus, the first two sites that came up were immigration consultants who will handle the process for you. One charges $157 for enrolment in 6-8 weeks and $ 262 for enrolment in 1- 3 weeks. Thank you, I’d rather do it myself.
Since Nexus is a joint program of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the US Department of Homeland Security, one can enroll through either. The process involves completing and submitting an application form and then, if the application is approved, going to an interview to have the iris scan. It turns out that enrolment through the Department of Homeland Security costs $50 US and can be done entirely online through the DHS Government Online Enrolment System (GOES) while enrolment through CBSA involves downloading the form and then submitting it in the mail and costs $80 Canadian. Cost and convenience trumped national identification, and I enrolled in GOES.
The GOES online application was easy to complete, with a form that was clear and a helpful error-correction function at the end. The entire process can then be handled online through the GOES website. I received an email informing me that my application had been accepted 2 ? weeks after I submitted it, and I was then able to book an interview at Pearson Airport two weeks later. My Nexus card came 2 weeks after the interview. The entire process took 7 weeks, with no consultant fee. I could have completed it a week or two faster, had I been able to make the first available interview.
All told, my conclusion is that the GOES system provided excellent service. As a Canadian, I was very disappointed, if not embarrassed, that the Canada Border Services Agency is still stuck in the paper age and doesn’t provide comparable service. And I hope this blog finds its way to both DHS and CBSA.
In my co-authored book Digital State at the Leading Edge (www.digitalstate.org), my co-authors and I accepted the consulting firm Accenture’s claim that the Government of Canada was at the world’s leading edge in providing eGovernment services. In this particular case of a precisely-matched program, it is clear that the Americans are ahead. Of course, a broader based study would be required to see if that is the case in other areas of online service delivery. But people make inferences from their personal circumstances. In this instance, the US has the online goods, and Canada doesn’t.