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How Do I Become a Customs Agent?

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, public attention focused on issues such as port security and border control. Yet the enforcement of these responsibilities dates back to the founding of the United States, when government revenue was collected solely from tariffs on imported goods and raw materials. The initial corps recruited to supervise collection and verification became known as the United States Customs Service. Following the assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, agencies were reorganized, combining the customs and collection functions with border control operations. The new entity is the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security.

Duties and Responsibilities
CBP officers are heavily involved in preventing the entry of terrorists and their weapons into the United States, as well as executing the laws governing customs, immigration and agricultural trade. On any given day, agents may process over a million travelers coming to the U.S. by land, sea or air. Of those, thousands are apprehended, arrested or simply refused entry. Additionally, these homeland security officials seize or intercept drugs, illegal currency and fraudulent documents on a daily basis. Charged with the protection of 7,000 miles of border and nearly 100,000 miles of shoreline, CBP professionals operate 327 ports of entry and 144 border patrol stations. Officers serve in aviation enforcement, marine interdiction, agricultural specialists and border patrol agents.

Educational and Work Requirements
Entry level status for new CBP officers is GS-5. This refers to the compensation level under the General Schedule maintained by the federal Office of Personnel Management. GS-5 requires a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) from a 4-year, regionally accredited institution of higher education. This condition may be qualified by sufficient work experience that enables the candidate to utilize strong communication skills, ability to apply standards and capacity to exercise leadership of a team or organization. The prerequisite can not, however, be met through credits from a foreign college or university unless they have been certified as equivalent by a recognized evaluation entity. Some specialist positions may rate GS-7 status, calling for t least a year of post-graduate study and work experience with direct bearing on the work of the CBP.

Background Investigation
An investigation into a candidate’s background is a necessary component of the application process for all homeland security jobs. Character and reliability are determined from the information garnered, which can include checks of citizenship, criminal records, credit reports, bankruptcy filings, legal proceedings and acquaintance interviews.

Physical and Mental Fitness Tests
Upon making application and submitting credentials to CBP, a candidate may receive a tentative offer of employment. This means that certain benchmarks must be passed prior to beginning the training phase of the job. The physical fitness test evaluates form, repetitions and time in five separate exercises: push-ups, line crosses, sit-ups, resistance lifts and step exercises. A second fitness test that adds running to the mix will be administered to trainees before they can assume their roles with CBP. Prior to this test, the candidate will receive a medical screening to certify that no physical conditions would prohibit successful completion of the test.

An entrance examination is also required of CBP candidates. This test gauges logical reasoning, mathematical skills, verbal comprehension and writing skills. Border patrol candidates are also tested on their facility with the Spanish language. As is evident, all the hiring criteria for homeland security jobs measure character, fitness, and aptitude. To begin the process of consideration as a CBP officer, interested parties should access the government’s employment website,

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