Global Entry – Hardest interview of my life

If you apply for Global Entry to the US, you first submit a long list of things like your passport, driving licence, all the countries you’ve visited in the last five years, all the jobs you’ve had and all the places you’ve lived. Then you wait for a time, and (hopefully) get notified that you’ve been conditionally accepted to the program, contingent on an interview, which you do either at a local embassy (but the lead time to get an interview seems to be incredibly long) or when you arrive in the US (at some, but not all, airports). As I was flying into SFO today I figured it would do it there.

I approached this with some trepidation, because I view bureaucracy (and especially any bureaucracy designed around border control) as akin to a large threshing machine. It is possible to put your hand into it, but you want to be really careful when you do so.

Instructions on the DHS website are a little bit confusing. You’re told to bring at least two forms of ID (what do you do if you only have a passport because you don’t have a driving licence?), as well as proof of residency (which is listed in a rather vague way – its not clear if the list is exhaustive or not) and your notification letter, which I couldn’t print out. So I was already worrying I didn’t have the right bits of paper, as well as wondering what the tenor of the interview would be. Would there be bright lights? Handcuffs? A quiz on the Constitution? A demand for a written apology for the time my wife’s people burned down the White House?

There’s a line for Global Entry on the far left of the Immigration hall at SFO. There’s a bank of machines for enrolled members to use, and then a queue for interviews. There were two kiosks manned, one with a piece of A4 paper stuck to the glass saying ‘Global Entry interviews’ and the other kiosk with an enormous sign saying "Global Entry Interviews here".

(Unfortunately, that second sign was as misleading as the sign over the Visa On Arrival counter at Jakarta Airport. The one that says "Visa On Arrival – Visa / Mastercard" despite the staff refusing to take anything but cash. That’s right, you can’t use Visa for an Indonesian visa.)

The kiosk with the paper sign was taking ages, so I went to the other kiosk and starting getting out my ream of documents. "No, I don’t need any of those, I’m only processing you" said the officer on duty. This confused me, because I thought the interview was part of the Global Entry process, but this wasn’t that process at all, it was processing my entry into the US, which is a requirement before they process your Global Entry interview.

The officer looked at me with a combination of surprise and contempt, I assume because she was expecting me to understand the difference between processing and the process. Because that’s what I do, day in day out, whereas she was having to do it for the first time.

Oh, hang on. That would be in opposite world.

Anyway, I got my passport stamped, and then queued up again, and waited a very long time, now worrying at the length of the interview the man currently stood at the other kiosk was getting.

After a long wait, another official came to tell us that each interview would take 15 minutes, so if we didn’t want to wait we could just go through and get our baggage and depart. I wanted to get my Global Entry set up, so I waited.

There was a couple in front with inadvisable shirts, a man with a big bag and a woman who looked like she’d had a lot of plastic surgery, and who kept fanning herself with her ticket. This weirded me out a bit as SFO is nowhere near as warm as Singapore, but my experience of heat is not your experience of heat. The interview line slowly trundled forward, 15 minutes at a time. I continued to worry about what questions they would ask.

Finally, it was my turn. All my documents were superfluous because the officer looked my application up via my passport number, and then I was asked only two questions :what email address did I apply with, and what residential address did I submit? While the first question almost stumped me (I have at least 6 different email addresses) and they were both slightly harder than Beijing in 2008 ("what… is your name?" it didn’t really feel like an interview. The only photographer was a webcam, there was no chance to plug my novel or my movie or my upcoming exotic dance tour, just enough time to get my fingerprints done, and then I was off, zooming through Customs with only my hand luggage, and away into America.

So in short, much simpler than I’d worried about. I suppose all the checking took place before I got to SFO, which is rather more efficient than waiting until people arrive and then quizzing them on every travel detail possible. Now to rest…

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