For VIPs from India, a red carpet kiosk welcome at US airports

India only fifth country to make the Global Entry program.

By Sujeet Rajan

NEW YORK: The VIP lobby in India seems to have been hard at work on this one, especially a coterie of Bollywood actors who in real life may have a last name called Khan. They have prevailed over the government, the US government that is.

According to a report in The Hindustan Times today, the US government has cleared India as only the fifth nation ever, after South Korea, the Netherlands, Canada and Mexico, to be eligible for the Global Traveler program.

The program domestically is defined as the Global Entry by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). It allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. At present, some 1.5 million people are listed in the program, most of them US citizens and permanent residents.

It is the equivalent of getting service at an ATM machine, with nobody in front of you, versus the choice of going to the bank next to the ATM machine, with just 200 or so people waiting in line, with an inquisitive teller waiting when you reach the counter with yelling kids in tow, who wants to make sure that you are who you say you are.

Under this new pact which is going to be finalized later this month when the Indian Prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh is feted by President Barack Obama at the White House, only some 150 Indian citizens would be entered into the program initially.

So, when these elite 150 VIP travelers from India entered into this program – via pre-clearance from immigration authorities in India and the US – reaches the shores of the US, they would clear immigration by sauntering to one of the Global Entry kiosks, present his or her machine-readable passport (with the added advantage of checking for e-mail, texting or speaking on the phone as the process gets going), place fingertips on the scanner for fingerprint verification, and make a customs declaration. And voila! The kiosk will issue the traveler a transaction receipt and directs him or her to baggage claim and the exit.

There must be a rush right now in India amongst celebrities and businessmen to be amongst the 150 super travelers to be made part of the list, and get bragging rights forever. Of course, there is no need for Indian politicians and diplomats to be part of the program as they have their own rush-free diplomatic channel at US airports to cross over leisurely.

But then there are also people like Azam Khan, Uttar Pradesh’s Urban Development Minister and a senior member of the Samajwadi Party, who threw a fit when detained for further questioning at the Boston airport earlier this year, who might be ruminating over whether he should next time enter the US through this new channel. Or retired diplomats, in turbans, who might be having sleepless nights ahead of an upcoming visit to the US. This might be a way out from potential embarrassment.

And of course, Bollywood detention stars Shah Rukh Khan and Irrfan Khan may be already relieved in anticipation of not having to do numerous impersonations from their films My Name is Khan and Slumdog Millionaire, respectively, at detention rooms in airports in front of skeptical immigration officers – who may check the same sequence on YouTube – to prove their authenticity, next time they visit the US.

(Sujeet Rajan is the Editor-in-Chief of The American Bazaar)

To contact the author, email to sujeetrajan@americanbazaaronline.com

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