In today’s interconnected post-9/11 world, border security has become a focal point for the United States, which shares 1,954 miles of border with Mexico and 5,525 miles of border (the longest land border in the world) with Canada. Though technology has enhanced the country’s ability to detect and prevent threats, the job of securing the U.S. border falls on Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officers – men and women tasked with safeguarding the tangible and intangible lines between nations.

In this article, we will examine the role of a CBP officer, their impact on border security, and the requirements such as skills and education to pursue the role. If you are considering a career as a CBP officer, this overview will help you determine the path you may wish to take and how you may be able to get started.

What is a Customs and Border Protection Officer?

Every day, CBP officers work to prevent illegal acts at the border, from terrorism to trafficking of illegal drugs and humans. With so much border to protect and so much focus on border security, the role of a CBP officer can be a sustainable and fulfilling career.

United States Customs and Border Protection, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, is actively recruiting CBP officers, with an emphasis on students and recent graduates, veterans, and current law enforcement and first responders. Like all careers, education and experience may be able to put you within reach, and both are paramount, as the application process contains multiple steps and involves everything from an entrance exam to a background investigation.

Why is There a Need for Customs and Border Protection Officers?

U.S. Customs and Border Protection employs 25,836 CBP officers, according to the agency, and on a typical day in fiscal year 2022 (the most recent data available), the agency seized:

  • 2,895 pounds of drugs
  • $217,700 in illicit currency
  • $8 million worth of products that violate intellectual property rights

While much of the focus is on drugs and human trafficking, CBP officers also seize fraudulent documents during searches and prevent harmful pests from contaminating plants, meat, animal byproducts, and soil supplies in the U.S.

As many as 868,867 passengers and pedestrians are processed at the border on a typical day, fueling the demand for qualified CBP officers.

What Does a Customs and Border Protection Officer Do?

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the role of a CBP officer involves multiple assignments and responsibilities. Among the most important:

  1. Counterterrorism: CBP officers must be able to detect and prevent terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the U.S.
  2. Law enforcement: It is the responsibility of a CBP officer to enforce customs, immigration, and agricultural laws and regulations at U.S. ports of entry and preclearance locations worldwide.
  3. Anti-trafficking: The U.S. Department of State estimates there are 27.6 million victims of human trafficking worldwide “at any given time,” and CBP officers must be able to prevent the illegal trafficking of people, narcotics, and contraband into the U.S.
  4. Inspection and enforcement: CBP officers perform inspection, intelligence analysis, examination, and law enforcement activities such as apprehension, detention, and arrest concerning arrivals and departures of individuals, vehicles, and goods at ports of entry.
  5. Homeland protection: CBP officers conduct developmental-level officer duties to protect the U.S. homeland, enforce federal laws, and facilitate legitimate trade and travel efficiently.
  6. Tactical operations: CBP officers develop, plan, and participate in tactical operations to enhance border security.
  7. Collaboration: As a division of U.S. Homeland Security, CBP interacts with carriers, other agencies, and foreign entities to exchange information and provide guidance on admissibility and compliance with regulations.

What a Career as a CBP Officer Looks Like

U.S. Customs and Border Protection touts “long-term career success, rapid promotion potential, and first-rate training” among the benefits of serving as a CBP officer. There are multiple levels of advancement for newcomers, who must start at the entry level.

  1. Entry level: GS-5, GS-7, and GS-9 positions are assigned after completing basic training
  2. Journeyman: This role – GS-11 and GS-12 – involves “more responsibility, duties, and higher performance standards.”
  3. Supervisory: These GS-13, GS-14, and GS-15 roles “include leadership and increased responsibilities.”
  4. Executive: CBP officers that ascend beyond GS-15 level are “responsible for high-level decisions, CBP’s vision, and interacting with external stakeholders and Congress.”

CBP officers are not just stationed along the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico. In fact, “mission critical locations” listed on a job posting for a GS-9 level CBP officer include Miami, Honolulu, Philadelphia, and Denver, among others.

What Skills Do I Need to Be a CBP Officer?

To become a CBP officer, you need a combination of education and experience, while also meeting a number of agency requirements, including:

  • U.S. citizenship
  • Firearm proficiency
  • Completion of CBP Officer Academy
  • A valid driver’s license
  • Residency requirement
  • The ability to meet uniform/grooming standards

A closer look at a job posting for a GS-9 level CBP officer shows what skills and abilities are needed to achieve the position. Among them:

  • Legal and procedural knowledge: You must show an understanding of CBP laws, regulations, and precedents, as well as CBP officer processes, techniques, activities, and law enforcement procedures to enforce and administer laws related to the arrival and departure of people, conveyances, and merchandise.
  • Law enforcement skills: You must have knowledge of proper law enforcement methods, including interrogating, searching, seizing, arresting, and self-defense, for use in the apprehension of terrorists, undocumented noncitizens, or others suspected of illegal activity.
  • Smuggling and fraud detection: CBP officers must be able to identify instances of smuggling and fraud as it applies to imports and exports.
  • Inspection and observation: CBP officers must be able to perform inspections by questioning and observing individuals.

What Education Is Needed to Become a CBP Officer?

According to one job posting for a GS-5 level CBP officer, educational requirements to earn the position include one of the following:

  1. Bachelor's degree: You must possess a bachelor's degree or complete a full 4-year course of study in any field from an accredited college or university.
  2. Bachelor's degree completion: You must commit to receiving a bachelor's degree within 9 months from the announcement's closing date and provide transcripts accordingly.
  3. Combination of experience and education: You may qualify for the role through a combination of college education and general work experience.

One bachelor-level degree that may be able to position you for an entry-level CBP officer role is a Bachelor of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

It should be noted that as CBP officers advance through their careers, education becomes even more important. A G-9 level officer, for example, must complete two full years of graduate-level education in a field related to law enforcement.

Is CBP Officer the Right Career for Me?

A career as a CBP officer appeals to those seeking a law enforcement career with federal benefits and the opportunity to safeguard the country’s borders. As a CBP officer, you may be at the forefront of America’s national security, responsible for enforcing customs, immigration, and agricultural laws, while preventing terrorism, drug, and human trafficking. The role of a CBP officer is ideal for those hoping for multiple career advancement opportunities, and is a meaningful career choice if you are passionate about public service and upholding the integrity of the country’s borders.

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