The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) announced December 28 that it was moving to an all-electronic filing method for Form I-418 “Passenger List – Crew List.” I-418 is required from the “master or agent of every commercial vessel arriving in the United States” (emphasis added). Now that’s a change at scale. The Form I-418 process also has a Coast Guard component, tracking everyone entering and leaving U.S. maritime ports.

CPB’s change is an “interim final rule”, and the agency is seeking public comments – due February 28 – on whether the change is a good idea. CPB writes that the e-format will streamline vessel arrival and departure, eliminate redundant data submissions, simplify vessel inspections and automate recordkeeping. CPB’s decision follows a pilot program that started in 2011.

Considering current challenges in U.S. ports, is this a big deal? Yes. “Increasing system fluidity is a huge deal,” commented a spokesperson for the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), “important to port officials and operators, as well as vessel captains.” Costs, record keeping, and speed are three immediate advantages.

Ditto commented Jeanette Gioia, President of the NY/NJ Foreign Freight Forwarders and Brokers Association: “Any change from paper-based to electronic systems is significant.” Gioia placed the move within broader CBP efforts to modernize multiple aspects of trade enforcement, data sharing, increased visibility and accountability. The Association supports the I-418 change. Accurate and timely data, Gioia said, “have significant consequences for duty amounts, quota, and tariff applicability.”

AAPA said e-filing will help speed up vessel operations in ports. They noted a pandemic related issue. Paper documentation sometimes required people to be physically present with others. E-filing can further reduce physical meetings and allow more stringent separation protocols. In conclusion AAPA wrote: “We applaud CBP’s decision, which we believe will enhance freight movement.”

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