Japan Wants To Introduce Pre-Clearance Immigration Facilities

Filed Under: Travel

Many of you have probably heard of US pre-clearance facilities, available for US-bound flights at select airports around the world, including Abu Dhabi, Dublin, and Toronto, just to name a few. The idea is that you clear US immigration before boarding your flight to the US, as a means of making the process more seamless once you land in the US.

US pre-clearance facility signage at Abu Dhabi Airport

As someone with Global Entry I selfishly don’t love the concept, since immigration on arrival takes me a few minutes at most on the front-end. However, I understand the concept in theory:

  • Some US airports have insane immigration wait times (yesterday I arrived from Fiji and we had to stay on the plane at LAX because the immigration hall was so backed up), sometimes with queues over an hour long
  • The US is one of the few countries in the world without a sterile international transit facility; this means you have to clear US immigration even if you’re only making an international-to-international connection in the US (almost all other countries allow passengers connecting internationally to stay in transit without clearing immigration)
  • It’s a way of screening high risk passengers before they board flights to the US, which in theory makes more sense than screening them upon arrival

US pre-clearance facility signage at Dublin Airport

Well, the US may not be the only country to operate pre-clearance facilities for much longer. Japan is now considering adding pre-clearance facilities abroad, and it’s something I really can’t make sense of. Specifically, Japan wants to add pre-clearance facilities in South Korea and Taiwan as a way of easing congestion at their own airports, given that about a third of Japan’s tourists come from those two places.

How do they envision this working? Per Nikkei Asian Review:

Travelers using the preclearance program would take care of most of the inspection process at their local airport, including interviewing Japanese authorities and providing fingerprints and photos. They would be directed to a special lane upon arrival in Japan, where they would go through a much-shortened screening, skipping the steps that were handled ahead of time.

The government plans to start with South Korea and Taiwan before expanding the program elsewhere. It is in talks with authorities to send immigration officials to major airports in both locations, aiming to put the program in place in fiscal 2017.

China-Airlines-Lounge-Taipei - 2
Taipei Taoyuan Airport, which would potentially have a pre-clearance facility

The government is apparently aiming to reduce wait times to 20 minutes at most, which is an admirable goal. However, in practice it just doesn’t seem practical:

  • Pre-screened passengers would still have to go through immigration formalities, though apparently just a shorter version of them (with US pre-clearance, you essentially land as a domestic passenger)
  • If connecting internationally in Japan you don’t have to clear immigration, so this would only apply to a fraction of passengers, which seems like it would contribute to confusion (meanwhile on US bound flights, all passengers have to go through immigration)
  • Historically pre-clearance facilities have led to departure delays for flights, which could be very bad for airline operations, since so many passengers are connecting international-to-international with fairly short connection times in Japan

What do you make of the possibility of Japan adding pre-clearance facilities in South Korea and Taiwan?

(Tip of the hat to LoyaltyLobby)

  1. Interesting.

    Earlier this year, Kuwait offered the UK to do the same on its soil; a UK pre-clearance facility at KWI.
    The UK Foreign Minister found the idea intriguing and stated that the UK has never thought of such a move. The press asked if they’d consider it? He replied that the logistics of such a setup would be immense and wasn’t sure it was worth implementing in just one country. nHe said the UK MAY consider it if more countries came onboard.
    I guess he was looking at it from the perspective of IT systems, HR personnel, arrival segregation of precleared pax, etc.

  2. I guess it’s only a way of offloading your problems on others.
    What’s the difference between going through the hassle of immigration at departure airport compared to going through the hassle of immigration at arrival airport? If all countries started placing immigration officers at other countries’ airports imagine the mess.
    So the US have some kind of first mover advantage here, and can you imagine the US accepting european Schengen area immigration in american airports? Not really IMHO.

  3. I will say this makes no sense. A large number of passengers landing in Japan are international connecting passengers without even having to clear immigration at all. This will be very confusing for passengers originating from somewhere like ICN or TPE, as well as the airport authority and airline staffs, who need to basically separate connecting passengers and passengers entering Japan. Also, unlike the US, most country have their immigration and customs not working together, which means it would be a question whether to send Japanese customs there too, or making all the immigration-pre-cleared passenger going through custom once they landed in Japan. Also, in fact the congestion in Japanese airport is not that bad anyways, at most 30 minutes wait. I’ll say it would make more sense to have a US pre-clearance facility in NRT, given the huge number of flight departing for the US everyday. BTW I don’t think US it’s the only country that implements off-shore pre-clearance. Traveling b/w the UK and continental Europe by Eurostar, u will pass through the Schengen border control at London St. Pancras station staffed by French border police, or pass through the UK border control at Paris Nord/Brussels Midi/Lille-Europe etc, and u arrive as a domestic passenger walking straight outta the station in Paris/Brussels/London.

  4. No, no, and no unless the facility includes global entry and the electronic mobile passport stations for US citizens, et al. I travel to and from Japan too often to have to go through this nonsense. It would only benefit a small subset of the traveling population, but be a total PITA for everyone else.

  5. So essentially you are saying Pre-clearance only works for the US because CBP sucks so much and as Japanese immigration at airports does not suck enough (they dont force transit passengers to go through customs and immigration) it really wont help Japan. BTW I have had instances at SFO (arriving on a Sunday) where the wait was 2 hours so I have started flying Etihad and do the pre-clearance in Abu Dhabi. However the sterile area after pre clearance at Abu Dhabi is very boring. I think Delhi airport has the best immigration and Customs experience. There are huge number of counters so generally even with 2-3 international flights landing at the same time you get through immigration in about 5-10 minutes and then immediately after immigration you have the arrivals duty free which gives you a chance to shop for gifts but more importantly breaks up the group of passengers so they dont hit customs all at the same time so customs is also never backed up. Further if you are on an international flight to India connecting in Delhi you dont have to clear customs and immigration in Delhi rather you do it at tyour final airport (if the airport is an international one).

  6. Canada also requires immigration check at the few places where you can do an Intl-Intl transfer without full customs clearance also.

  7. “Historically pre-clearance facilities have led to departure delays for flights, which could be very bad for airline operations, since so many passengers are connecting international-to-international with fairly short connection times in Japan”

    Where are you getting this information? Source? Or just your opinion based on 1 location?

    Canada has pre-clearance facilities since 1952, and transborder flight are not late/delayed due to pre-clearance.

  8. This would be just one more thing that could delay people and cause them to miss their flights. Id be pissed if i had to go through that hassle to get to the US since i have GE, if they setup a GE terminal fine but these type of things don’t necessarily help the passengers.

  9. Since you probably aren’t aware of the relaxed new entry policy Japan has towards its neighbors and you are completely ignoring the wave of low cost in East asia, you are missing the expansion of HK EXPRESS, JETSTAR,Airasia, Vanilla, Peach. this is new to Japan. huge growth in tourism is happening.
    One of the reasons is that Japan has probably 30 small to medium size airports with international flights, some of them, as kagoshima, niigata, shizuoka and the likes have 3-6 daily flights and just don’t have or justify the facilities for more than one or two immigration counters, meaning if some problematic visitor lands a big delay starts.
    It makes in Japanese eyes sense to obtain large spots in TPE and ICN (HKG,PEK,PVG,SHA for that matter too) and staff there 10 or so full time Japanese immigration officers, and deal with the daily draffic of 30 or so flights out of these main airports into japan rather than deal with them entirely in 30 or so tiny airports.

    This is completely not relevant to 99% of the blog readers that land in NRT HND KIX or NGO.

  10. Since Taiwanese and Korean tourists mark a big chunk of all foreigners visiting Japan, it’ll ease the immigration congestion at Japanese airports. Once the pre-clearance system is facilitated in these two countries I’m guessing there will be a third section at immigration entry points in Japan, which will be divided into passport holders of Japan, Taiwan & Korea, and others.

    However, what we really need is pre-clearance for Chinese citizens since they are the majority visitors to Japan and the number is skyrocketing…

  11. Makes a lot of sense, there are times the immigration lines at Narita can take about an hour. Points of origin in Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong should definitely get pre clearance.

  12. I don’t have the statistics, but the majority of Taiwanese passengers to Japan have final destinations in Japan. Growing up in Taiwan, going to Japan is like people in Brussels visiting London (Eurostar has pre-clearance). There is also a growing number of Taiwanese going to Japan for 24 hours just to shop and eat.

    Key: Majority of the passengers from Taiwan to Japan are not connecting to somewhere else.

    As Taiwanese, this just makes perfect sense…

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