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Schumer & Customs & Border Protection (CBP) Western NY, Especially Along Rainbow Bridge & Peace Bridges, Has Seen Surge Of Practice Known ‘FlagPoling’ – Where Canadians Seeking Canadian Work Authorization Exploit A Legal Loophole and Enter The US Only For A Few Hours To Expedite Their Work Permits – Which Are Facing Long Wait Times In Canada – Bogging Down Crossings And Frustrating Border Protection Officers Who Must Take Extra Time To Process These Cases

Schumer Is Now Calling On The Canadian Govt To Reverse This Trend That’s Crowding Out Visitors From Reaching Niagara Falls & Western NY & Overburdening CBP Officers To Maintain Vital Tourist Economy Summer Travel & Keep Goods Moving Between Countries Flowing Smoothly

Schumer To Canada: We Must Ensure Smooth Travel For Residents & Visitors In Western NY Ahead Of Summer Travel Season 

Standing at the Rainbow Bridge connecting Niagara Falls in Canada and New York, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer today launched a push calling on the Canadian government to crack down on the use of ‘flagpoling’ – a practice of Canadians briefly exiting and reentering Canada to renew visas and work permits to skip bureaucratic paperwork processing delays. 

Schumer said flagpolers will go to the border to get their paperwork processed within days, rather than apply online or via mail, which can take months due to Canada’s backlogs. Schumer said these instances have been surging in Western NY this year according to bridge officials, causing longer wait times, increasing traffic, and frustrating CBP officers who are already spread thin, with worries that 2024 could be the highest year of flagpoling yet. Schumer said as summer comes officials fear it could only get worse, which is why he is calling on Canada to stop this practice and better coordinate with CBP to ensure tourism can continue to flow smoothly between countries.

"Every year, families look forward to visiting beautiful Niagara Falls and rely on a smooth trip between Canada & the U.S., but this loophole is causing unnecessary delays at Rainbow Bridge, Peace Bridge and others crossings across NY. This practice is holding up travelers, impeding traffic flow, hindering trade, and causing increased wait times to make the short trip to Canada from Buffalo. This is not only frustrating for visitors, but our hard-working CBP officers are being spread even thinner because of the unpredictability of this practice,” said Senator Schumer. “That’s why I am calling on the Canadian government to immediately begin work to help fix this problem ahead of the peak of summer tourism season so we can ensure commerce between our nations can continue to thrive. Canada and the US have always been good next-door neighbors, so it’s time to get these wait times back down so tourism and trade can go up.”

"As we enter the summer travel season, the use of this loophole in Canadian law to circumvent the visa process is causing unnecessary delays at the border," said Congressman Tim Kennedy. "Western New York's border with our Canadian neighbors is one of the busiest trade crossings in North America and a key point of entry for tourism on both sides. I join Senator Schumer in his call to resolve this issue as quickly as possible."

“The Niagara Falls Bridge Commission has grown increasingly concerned over the procedure known as ‘flag poling’ and its direct impact on both US and Canadian Customs staffing capacity, security, and travel delays at our international border crossings. The commission greatly appreciates both Senator Schumer and Congressman Kennedy drawing attention to this issue and working with leaders in both Ottawa and Washington to help bring about rapid procedural change,” said Ken Bieger, Chief Executive Officer of Niagara Falls Bridge Commission

“The Niagara Falls Bridge Commission greatly appreciates the ongoing support of Senator Schumer and Congressman Kennedy in addressing the chronic issue of flag poling at our international border crossings,” said Kathleen Neville, Commissioner and Vice Chair of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission. “Flagpoling has led to unnecessary Customs staffing limitations and border delays, while impacting the ability of our partners at CBP and CBSA to deliver on their respective missions of keeping our nations secure, while facilitating the legitimate flow of goods and people at our crossings.”

“Flagpoling clogs up the Peace Bridge and other border crossings by tying up Customs officers doing unnecessary bureaucratic work better done in-land or on-line.  The travelling public and the trade community appreciate the efforts of Majority Leader Schumer to bring this archaic, inefficient, and inconvenient process to an end,” said Ron Reinas, Chief Executive Officer of Buffalo & Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority

Schumer explained this loophole enables foreign nationals living in Canada to cross the border in and out of Canada and get permits and visas processed faster than if they submit their materials to immigration offices in the Canadian Interior. It is referred to as flagpoling because those Canadians who require visas or work permits and are already in Canada must simply go to a border and travel ‘around the flagpole’ before presenting themselves at the border. Schumer said because visa or permit applications can be processed within days at the border, versus 6-9 months, or more, if submitted online or by mail, there has been an increase in the number of people who flagpole.

With more and more Canadians using this practice to avoid paperwork delays, flagpoling has become a huge problem that’s exacerbating lines for passport checks, standstill traffic, and frustrating visitors traveling to Niagara Falls with their children. Schumer said even though Canadians cross into the U.S. for just for a few hours, the U.S. still has to process them before they go back to Canada, which takes at least 30 minutes per person and in some cases can take over an hour, taking officers away from their usual duties who the majority of the time do not have capacity to prepare for these special requests, inhibiting CBP officers’ ability to let visitors and tourists across quickly. This is a particular problem as the practice increases as the Buffalo-Niagara region has one of the busiest U.S. Canada border crossings.  

Schumer explained that in January of this year alone, nearly 2,000 Canadians engaged in flagpoling, randomly showing up at Western New York bridges. In January, over 700 instances of flagpoling occurred at the Rainbow Bridge, over 560 at Peace Bridge, and over 420 at Lewiston Bridge. According to border protection officials, they fear given current trends 2024 could be the highest year for flagpoling yet, with 12,000 claims already processed just this year across the border and nearly 25,000 claims processed in 2023. 

Schumer said each one of those requests takes an officer off the line, with CBP already understaffed because attrition is exceeding the rate of hiring.  Schumer said although traffic volume has decreased since 2019, average border wait times are up 52%, in part due to the length of time it takes to process flagpoling claims, which hold up the normal flow of cars going to and from Canada. Schumer said visitors and CBP protection officers are suffering, with CBP predicting 2024 will be the worst flagpoling year yet.  

Schumer said he is urging the Canadian government to stop flagpoling to ensure commerce and tourism can easily flow between Canada and the U.S, boosting trade and both countries’ tourist economies. And calling on CBSA to better coordinate with U.S. officials to reduce this unpredictability to keep travel across our shared border flowing smoothly.

A copy of Schumer’s letter to Canadian Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Miller can be viewed below:

Dear Minister Miller,

I write to express my concerns regarding a practice commonly known as “flagpoling” that is contributing to long wait times at international border crossings between Canada and New York state. Ensuring seamless, secure, and swift travel between our countries is vital for the economic prosperity of both the U.S. and Canada. Delays significantly affect retail outlets, dining establishments, malls, and various tourist spots on both sides of our shared border. However, flagpoling takes Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers away from their normal duties and slows down travel at our border crossings.

As I am sure you are aware, flagpoling occurs when a Canadian temporary resident exits and reenters Canada in order to receive expedited immigration services at a port of entry (POE) from the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), versus waiting 6-9 months for work permit, visa, or permanent residency reauthorization from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) in the Canadian Interior. Those who need should have immigration paperwork processed in a timely manner through normal channels, but flagpoling disrupts normal travel and increases the unpredictability of wait times at our busiest border crossings. I urge CBSA to better coordinate with CBP to reduce this unpredictability, and I urge Canada to work with the U.S. to end flagpoling to keep travel across our shared border flowing smoothly.

As the summer tourism season approaches, keeping our border crossings efficient is even more important. Over the past few weeks, I have heard reports from our Rainbow, Lewiston-Queenston, and Peace Bridges on how flagpoling is worsening delays for travelers. In New York, CBP officers currently process around 2,000 flagpole referrals each month. 35 officer hours per day are spent solely on processing flagpolers and those who arrive with them. Moreover, when CBSA reaches capacity, they turn flagpolers away, who then return to U.S. POEs to try again. This means CBP officers can process the same party multiple times in a single day. These hours spent processing flagpolers could be used to move commerce, visitors, and tourists more quickly through our POEs. Since 2019, the average wait times during the peak summer of the tourist season at POEs in New York increased by over 50%, even though traffic has not yet reached pre-COVID levels. If something isn’t done, wait times will only get longer. These long wait times discourage tourists, delay goods, and hurts those who regularly travel across the northern border. The unpredictable wait times at border crossings discourage travelers from both sides of the border, leading to a loss of valuable tourism revenue for our shared economies.

New York and Canada share a relationship woven not just in trade deals and investments, but in the fabric of our partnerships in security, prosperity, and environmental stewardship. I am committed to continuing to foster this enduring partnership built on a shared pursuit of progress and peace for all our citizens. Together, we can forge a solution to end flagpoling that benefits both New York and Canada. 

I thank you for your attention to this matter and look forward to our continued collaboration on this and other matters.