On June 3, 2016, India’s Ministry of External Affairs, the Consular, Passport and Visa Division, entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to begin the membership procedure for the US Global Entry Program. The two countries would like to complete India’s entry into the Global Entry Program within the next three months. The Global Entry System is a program administered by CBP that permits expedited clearance for pre-approved and low-risk travelers entering the United States. The Global Entry System has entry kiosks available at over 80 airports in the United States and abroad. The program is currently available to citizens from seven countries: the United States (US citizens and US lawful permanent residents), United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Panama, South Korea, and Mexico. Canadian citizens and residents are eligible for Global Entry benefits through membership in the NEXUS program. India would become the eight country to participate in the program. Travelers who are pre-approved for the Global Entry System simply can have their passport and fingerprints scanned at a kiosk, and complete a customs declaration, avoiding processing lines, paperwork, and wait times.
This announcement was made just days before the Special Global Partnership with India Act 2016 was introduced by Congressmen Engel and Crowley. The Act aims to enhance ties between India and the US by elevating the status of the bilateral relationship. If passed, this Act will lead to greater cooperation across sectors ranging from defense and space to entrepreneurship and innovation. For years, India has been making progress toward more people-to–people contact. Creating a more flexible US visa program that facilitates tourism will surely increase the flow of ideas and ultimately create avenues for investment and information sharing. As the Act and other bilateral agreements between the two countries are finalized, it will be worth tracking the development of possible US visa categories specifically intended for Indian nationals. Similar bilateral investment treaties have created distinctive visa designations for other trade partners such as the TN visa for Canada and Mexico, the E-3 visa for Australia, and the H-1B1 visa for Singapore and Chile. India is surely hoping for a comparable outcome.