As Rebecca Risch planned her summer dream trip to Tuscany, Italy she decided it was time to get a fast-track U.S. customs card to avoid long delays on her way home.

After Risch, 50, registered and paid her fees for a Global Entry program card through the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office at Denver International Airport the soonest appointment available for a mandatory, in-person interview was Nov. 16.

“That’s the earliest I could get. That’s just crazy,” said Risch said. Now Risch is considering going out of state where appointments can be set within days or weeks at other Global Entry enrollment centers, she said.

The wait times for in-person interviews in Denver are among the longest in the nation because the enrollment center at Denver International Airport is one of the smallest of the 57 in the United States and it is understaffed, Nate Peeters, a customs spokesman, said. Customs is considering hiring more employees in Denver to reduce the backlog, he said.

Nationally, there are 350,000 people waiting for interviews, Peeters said.

“We’re experiencing a bit of a backlog,” he said.

Global Entry was created so trusted travelers could avoid lengthy waits at customs stations upon their return to the United States, Peeters said. The program also saves time for customs officers, he said.

“If we know these people present a low risk, we’d rather spend our time assessing higher risk travelers,” Peeters said.

Most international travelers are getting the Global Entry cards within a few weeks of applying.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection is completing 60 to 70 percent of incoming Global Entry applications within 16 days,” Peeters said. The remaining applications require additional review and generally take 90 days or more to complete, he added.

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post file

Travelers walk through the main terminal of Denver International Airport on June 18, 2019.

But a November appointment at DIA made it impossible for Risch to get a card in time for her August flight to Italy, Risch, a former Denver Post employee, said.

Risch could participate in an option that allows travelers previously registered for a Global Entry card to meet with a customs agent for an on-the-spot interview at the airport when they return from a foreign country, Peeters said.

Still, Global Entry interview appointments can be made much more quickly at other enrollment centers including at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. On Jan. 16, card applicants could schedule an interview for the next day, according to the customs website.

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