A Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) is necessary to access secure areas of vessels and other maritime facilities in the U.S. The credential was established with the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) of 2002. Prior to the MTSA, there was no standard procedure for background checks at U.S. ports, but the 9/11 attacks prompted Congress to tighten security measures. The TWIC program went into effect in 2007.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) conducts background checks and issues credentials, and the U.S. Coast Guard checks credentials and restricts or allows access as required by law. Those eligible for a TWIC card include U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, naturalized citizens, nonimmigrant aliens, asylees, and refugees who are in lawful status, according to TSA.
Applicants are not eligible if they have been convicted of or are under warrant or indictment for specific crimes as described by the TSA. Among the listed offenses that disqualify applicants permanently are crimes related to espionage, sedition, treason, or terrorism. Crimes that disqualify applicants for a period of seven years include such smuggling offenses, immigration offenses, and multiple weapons-related offenses.
The Card and Who Needs One
As of 2018, TSA had processed 4.2 million enrollments, according to Homeland Security Today. Those most likely to need a TWIC card are merchant mariners, port employees, longshoremen, and truck drivers. The card itself is similar to other identification cards and contains a biometric computer chip like those found on credit cards. The chip contains identifying information about the cardholder, and card readers at port facilities are used to ensure that only credentialed individuals gain access to restricted areas. As of summer 2018, not all affected maritime facilities had implemented the use of the biometric card readers.
The Application Process
Applicants who were born in the United States and who claim U.S. citizenship must provide documents to prove their citizenship. Applicants need to bring one document from List A or two documents from List B:
List A: One of the following:
- Unexpired U.S. passport (book or card)
- Unexpired U.S. Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL)
- Unexpired Enhanced Tribal Card (ETC)
- Unexpired Free and Secure Trade (FAST) Card
- Unexpired NEXUS Card
- Unexpired Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) Card
- Unexpired Global Entry Card
List B: One of the following plus a government-issued photo ID:
- Original or certified copy of birth certificate issued by a state, county, municipal authority, or outlying possession of the U.S. bearing an official seal
- U.S. Certificate of Citizenship (N-560 or 561)
- U.S. Certificate of Naturalization (N-550 or 570)
- U.S. Citizen Identification Card (I-179 or I-197)
- Consular Report of Birth Abroad (FS-240)
- Certification of Report of Birth (DS-1350)
- Certification of Birth Abroad (FS-545)
- Expired U.S. passport within 12 months of expiration
Applicants who are not U.S. citizens can determine the specific documents they need by inputting their status on TSA's website. For example, a combination of required documents might include a foreign passport and a crewman's landing permit (I-95), but each situation may be different depending on the circumstances and status of the applicant.
After determining the documents they need, applicants fill out the online application and schedule an appointment. The fee for new applicants, as of 2020, is $125.25, and replacement cards cost $60. Applicants who have a Free and Secure Trade Card or a valid driver's license with a hazardous materials endorsement can pay a reduced fee of $105.25.
Applicants should receive a response within 30 to 45 days and are able to check the status of their applications online.
Applicants can receive escorted access while awaiting a decision on their applications if their employer applies for a temporary exemption. This exemption is good for 30 days, and those possessing it must have the paperwork as well as valid identification. People with a temporary exemption must have another fully credentialed employee with them at all times when accessing restricted areas.
The Transportation Worker Identification Credential Accountability Act of 2018 is a bipartisan measure introduced in May of that year to restrict any rules requiring the use of biometric card readers until the assessment of the TWIC program's effectiveness has been conducted and submitted to Congress.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) made a similar recommendation in 2013. The GAO report cited errors with readers and other systems collecting accurate data and also noted that the TSA did not record baseline data for comparing operational performance at different access points. Additionally, instances of denied access were not properly recorded.