Lining up at the airport in the U.S. can be a long and daunting task (especially for those of us who are foreign citizens), but TSA Pre-Check, CLEAR, SENTRI, Global Entry, and other memberships seem to make those lines shorter. So are they available if you're an expat in the US on a visa?
If you're not familiar, when you arrive to check-in at the airport there is generally a line adjacent to the long one you're familiar with which allows you to breeze through the security process with your shoes on, and your laptop in your bag. This special access is known as TSA Pre-Check!
What is TSA Pre✓®
From the TSA website, what exactly is TSA Pre-Check?:
Keep moving. TSA Pre✓® saves you time and stress.
With a 5 year, $85 membership, you can speed through security and don’t need to remove your: shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets.
What a dream! It might not sound like much but you will no longer have to wait behind that person who happens to be carrying four laptops, somehow has two pairs of shoes on their feet, and “forgot” that their pockets were filled with coins; all of which makes a stressful situation more stressful.
The benefit comes primarily to those who fly domestically a lot in the U.S. and don't want to have to line up every time. I'm looking at you, business travelers!
Who can get TSA Pre✓®?
Here's the sad part for all of you on a temporary visa to the US:
The TSA PreCheck® Application Program is only open to U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals and lawful permanent residents.
This means that it's available to Green Card holders, you just have to apply, but not for E-3/H-1B/visa holders by default.
BUT THERE'S STILL HOPE! Many airlines give away TSA Pre-Check, even to foreign nationals if they are regular fliers, as part of their rewards and membership programs. So if you fly domestically often, have a chat to the airline that you and/or your work have you flying with and ask the question. Sometimes you might have to redeem points, or sometimes they'll simply want to keep your business so it's worth the chat!
You can also potentially be lucky enough to get it if the person who booked the flights has it, and you get it as part of their booking.
CLEAR if you're on a visa in the US
There's also an alternative available to you with a new company, CLEAR:
With CLEAR, your eyes and fingertips get you through security faster at airports and stadiums.
I have confirmed with CLEAR that even though their website states: “CLEAR is currently only available to US citizens and legal permanent residents 18 and older with a valid photo ID.” it is available to anyone who holds a U.S. State-issued ID:
Thank You for contacting CLEAR. In order to complete enrollment with CLEAR, you would need a US issued ID or passport.
This is technically not what their website says, so there may be some back-and-forth to get things done, but it's definitely worth a shot. A quick scan of your fingerprint and eyeball, and you can be through security and inside!
SENTRI is another option for expats in the US
SENTRI stands for Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection and is a:
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Participants may enter the United States by using dedicated primary lanes into the United States at Southern land border ports.
This is particular to entering from Mexico and Canada and appears to be only for a vehicle or pedestrian entrance (not via flight).
Who can get SENTRI?
There are no citizenship or age requirements for SENTRI however if you're under 18, you need a legal guardian's consent.
There is also a list here of things that might preclude you from applying (e.g. “… found in violation of any customs, immigration or agriculture regulations or laws in any country”)
It does appear that members of SENTRI can qualify for TSA Pre-Check.
Note: There is mention on SENTRI information pages that it allows access to Global Entry as well for members, however, CBP clarifies this here:
All current NEXUS members, and U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents who are SENTRI members, are eligible to use Global Entry kiosk
Global Entry for Australians and those on visas in the US
Now we're flipping things around and we're looking at the other side of the process: the arrival into the U.S. For most of you reading this, you'll know that arriving can be a daunting task with extra stress added by the long wait to be seen.
Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at select airports.
Basically, when you arrive, you again get a special and more automatic process to simply re-enter the country.
Who can get Global Entry?
U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents and citizens of the following countries are eligible for Global Entry membership:
Citizens of: Argentina, India, Colombia, United Kingdom, Germany, Panama, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, Mexican nationals
They're pretty specific about Australians:
Australian Citizens are not eligible for Global Entry.
If you hold a Green Card, then you should definitely start looking into applying because it's going to save you a lot of time in your travel!
So this isn't great, but there is hope again because it would appear that Australia is in the process of entering a pilot program of Global Entry:
Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) hailed an agreement reached between the United States and Australia to launch a pilot program allowing Australian citizens to apply for expedited customs clearance through U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Global Entry program. Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport is one of 57 airports nationwide that participate in the program.
All very exciting, and I'll have more for you here if and when any of the above changes!