Schumer calls out Canadian government on “flagpoling” practice

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Sen. Chuck Schumer called out the Canadian government in a Tuesday news conference at Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, asking the government to end the “flagpoling” practice that has led to increased wait times at the Canada-U.S. borders.

The method allows temporary Canadian residents who require work permits or visas to come into the United States for as little as a few hours and get their paperwork processed at the border, later receiving their needed permits within days. Schumer said that residents do this in lieu of sending their permits in the mail, which can take up to nine months to be processed.

Schumer said that this legal loophole ties up a border agent for as much as a half hour for a single temporary resident, which has led to increased wait times at the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, Peace Bridge in Buffalo, and Lewiston-Queenston Bridge in Lewiston.

He is calling on the Canadian government to close the loophole.

“With the summer on the horizon, the busy tourist season is going to get busier and this practice continues to climb,” Schumer said Tuesday. “The traffic at the bridge for Americans, for Western New Yorkers, will get worse and worse.”

The crossings in Western New York are some of the busiest border crossings into Canada in the country.

Schumer said that there were around 20,000 cases of flagpoling at the northern border in 2023, and those numbers increased in January: 700 at Rainbow Bridge, 570 at Peace Bridge and 420 at Lewiston-Queenston

“Long wait times discourage tourists, delay goods and hurt our Western New York economy,” Schumer said.

Niagara Falls Bridge Commission CEO Ken Bieger added that many of these residents come to the border crossings in Ubers or taxis, which creates a safety hazard and confusion as the temporary residents walk around the border crossing area.

“You can imagine the safety concerns and the stress this places on our bridge operators and custom agency resources,” Bieger said.

He said that this has been an issue for years, but has become a larger problem in the past six to seven years due to increases in temporary residents coming to Canada from other foreign nations.

Schumer will work with NY-26 Congressman Tim Kennedy on this issue. Kennedy said Tuesday that he plans to join the house’s Northern Border Caucus, a caucus in which his predecessor, Brian Higgins, was involved in.

“Our community here in Western New York is right on the border of our greatest ally to the north, Canada,” Kennedy said. “We are dealing with issues each and every day, this flagpoling issue is one of those issues.”

You can view Tuesday’s news conference in full in the media player above.

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Aidan Joly joined the News 4 staff in 2022. He is a graduate of Canisius College. You can see more of his work here.

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