ABU DHABI // US-bound travellers departing from the capital could clear customs before boarding their plane, the US secretary of homeland security Janet Napolitano said yesterday.
The US and UAE signed a letter of intent in recent days to implement "pre-clearance" in the Abu Dhabi airport, in what would be the first location for such a set-up in the Middle East. Other airports that offer pre-clearance are in Canada, the Caribbean and Ireland.
"It allows you to clear customs here before you even get on a plane to the United States ... it effectively moves the borders of the United States outward," Ms Napolitano explained during a two-day visit. "We don't do it very often so it's a signal of our partnership here."
Pre-clearance is meant to speed entry into the US upon arrival, though passengers would still have to go through immigration and customs in Abu Dhabi. The programme would also help the US screen passengers who might be denied entry before they flew to the country.
Setting up the system would be complicated and costly, and there were no plans at the time to expand to other airports such as Dubai, said Ms Napolitano. "Let's get it in Abu Dhabi - these are big things, and they are expensive - and we'll see where we go from there," she said.
The US and UAE are also implementing an Immigration Advisory Programme designed to prevent unwanted travellers from flying to the US.
Starting next year, American officials will be stationed at airports to look out for high-risk individuals and discourage local authorities and airlines from allowing certain passengers to board flights to the US.
Some American immigration, customs, and border security officials are already staffed permanently in the UAE to help carry out security checks for visas and US-bound maritime cargo.
They also provide training for Emirati law enforcement officials, as do forces such as the New York Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
The US and UAE also participate in joint task forces to tackle transnational issues such as money laundering and human trafficking. Many such crimes that transit through the UAE originate from South Asia, Ms Napolitano said.
"We work closely with our UAE counterparts and also with our US counterparts on money laundering and human trafficking investigations. We've actually had some great success here in that regard, taking down some rings, taking down some cash," she said.
Information-sharing contributed to combating such crimes, she said.
During her two-day visit, Ms Napolitano addressed the Gulf States Global Police Symposium, where she stressed the need for police to be trained to address terrorism and other international crimes.
"Local police must deal with global issues that may very well begin thousands of miles away, but can have direct and serious consequences at home. And this, really, is a new kind of challenge for all of us," she said yesterday.
She urged continued international cooperation, noting that the US Department of Homeland Security maintains a presence in 75 countries with more than 1,500 employees - the "third largest international footprint of any US civilian government agency".
Ms Napolitano arrived in the UAE from Qatar, where she met top officials and on Sunday signed an agreement on aviation security.
Her visit to the UAE is her third in three years as homeland security secretary.