IRELAND is set to become the first country to have full pre-clearance facilities for travelers wishing to visit the U.S.
U.S. Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Janet Napolitano was in Dublin on Monday, June 29, to discuss the deal with Irish Transport Minister Noel Dempsey. The pair met at Shannon airport in Co. Clare.
Shannon is expected, once legislation is passed through the Dail (Parliament), to become the first airport outside of the U.S. to offer passengers traveling to the county, either on a scheduled or charter commercial airline, full pre-clearance facilities at Shannon in July, with Dublin Airport following behind in 2010.
Dempsey met with Napolitano, who also toured the Customs and Border Patrol facility at Shannon on Monday, in Washington on November 17 last to sign the agreement.
Speaking in Washington last November Dempsey said, “This Inter-Governmental Agreement with the United States will have major benefits for Ireland. The potential of Ireland to grow trans-Atlantic services from its airports is now very significant. In the current difficult economic conditions trans-Atlantic business is more important than ever for Ireland.”
Dempsey said the pre-clearance facilities in Ireland will save time upon entry to the U.S, and make the trip hassle free.
“Passengers from Shannon and Dublin airports will benefit from uninterrupted passage through U.S. airports on arrival, saving time and hassle,” he said.
Currently, passengers traveling through both airports undergo U.S. immigration clearance, but the new agreement will also allow travelers to clear customs in Ireland before boarding a flight. At the moment passengers have to queue to clear customs and agriculture inspection when they arrive in the U.S.
“Trans-Atlantic airlines will benefit from being able to fly into less congested and less expensive domestic terminals on arrival at U.S. airports,” said Dempsey.
“This should lead to easier access to aircraft stands thereby minimizing the time between touchdown and passengers disembarking. In the competitive field of aviation, time means money for airline operators. This agreement will help operators save valuable time.”
The U.S. authorities told the Irish government last year that they have no plans to extend pre-clearance elsewhere in Europe.
“This should give Ireland a comparative advantage in the highly competitive trans-Atlantic aviation sector,” responded Dempsey.
In order for Ireland to remain part of the visa waiver program, which allows for citizens to enter the U.S. for 90 days without having to apply for an entry visa, Ireland will have to comply to a new agreement on sharing criminal data with the U.S.
The new security measures, which the U.S. already have in existence with Germany and several other eastern and central European countries, would mean the exchanging of personal data, including DNA and fingerprint records. It is also believed that an individual’s political and religious beliefs as well as a person’s sexual orientation may be shared in order to travel to the U.S.
Ireland’s membership of the visa waiver program is up for renewal this year. Dempsey said the visa waiver program is important to Ireland and the Irish government may have to comply.