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

The CPB change is an “interim final rule,” and the agency is seeking public comment — due Feb. 28 — on whether the change is a good idea. CPB writes that the electronic format will streamline vessel arrival and departure, eliminate redundant data submissions, simplify vessel inspections and automate record keeping. The CPB’s decision follows a pilot program that began in 2011.

Given the current challenges in US ports, is this a big deal? Yes. “Increasing the fluidity of the system is a huge deal,” commented a spokesperson for the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), “important for port officials and operators, as well as ship captains.” Cost, record keeping and speed are three immediate benefits.

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 as part of CBP’s broader efforts to modernize multiple aspects of business enforcement, data sharing, increased visibility and accountability. The Association supports the I-418 change. Accurate and timely data, Gioia said, “has significant implications for duty amounts, quotas and tariff applicability.”

The AAPA said e-filing will help expedite ship operations in ports. They noted a problem related to the pandemic. Paper documentation sometimes required people to be physically present with others. E-filing can further reduce physical meetings and allow for stricter separation protocols. In conclusion, the AAPA wrote, “We applaud CBP’s decision, which we believe will improve the movement of goods.”