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Belgium and US sign agreement to speed up airport border controls

Border controls Brussels Airport
15:08 29/09/2020

Long queues at Belgium’s national airport at Zavantem for travellers to the United States look set to be a thing of the past, following a customs and immigration ‘preclearance’ agreement signed on 28 September by Belgian minister of foreign affairs and defence, Philiippe Goffin and US ambassador to the Kingdom of Belgium Ronald Gidwitz.

“It’s as if the US frontier has moved to Belgium. A part of the airport will therefore be in American soil,” said Brussels Airport in 2016 about the proposal when debate on the subject first started.

The accord will allow passengers boarding flights from Brussels to the US to clear US customs and immigration controls before embarcation, and to save time upon arrival, the Belgian ministry and US Embassy said in a joint statement.

“This agreement, which has been under discussion for several years, will help further strengthen the already substantial trade and investment between the two countries and promote Brussels Airport as a trans-Atlantic hub,” they say.

With preclearance, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers in Brussels will conduct the same immigration, customs and agriculture inspections of international air travellers currently carried out on arrival in the US. And travellers arriving in the US from Brussels will be able to bypass CBP and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) inspections and “proceed directly to their connecting flight or destination”.

Before the agreement comes into force, it has to be ratified by the Belgian Parliament. Further technical agreements must also be concluded with the Brussels Airport Company to facilitate these operations.  

For Goffin, the deal will allow for “more efficient travelling between our countries, enhancing tourism and business exchanges even further”.

And US Ambassador Gidwitz said the “historic deal will enable Brussels Airport to bolster its position as a leading commercial hub in Europe and serve as an important pillar in the post-COVID recovery for the aviation and tourism sectors.”

Once the new check-in system is off the ground, Brussels will be the first location for US preclearance in mainland Europe. And when in place Belgium will join Ireland as the only European countries to benefit from these customs arrangements.

For now, Brussels Airport is considering interim measures to quicken up the current process for travellers wanting to fly to the US, including biometric tests and security screening.

Photo: The proposed system will make check-in times much quicker for US-bound travellers