The Voluntary Qualified Importer Program (VQIP) is a fee-based voluntary program that provides expedited import and review of animal and human foods into the US for participating importers. The scheme will benefit both importers and consumers in a variety of ways.
Participating importers can usually import their products into the US with greater predictability and speed and avoid unforeseen delays at the port of entry. Consumers stand to gain from the scheme as the importer will usually have a more robust management system of the security and safety of the supply chain.
Importers interested in applying can start their application by submitting a notice of intent to participate by setting up an account via the Voluntary Qualified Importer Program (VQIP) website.
Benefits of Participating in VQIP
Participants in the voluntary VQIP program get several benefits that include:
Easier and Quicker Entry
Any foods imported into the US under the VQIP program will be expedited upon arrival at the port of entry. The FDA makes use of its proprietary PREDICT import screening tool to determine if imported food is part of the VQIP application. The tool is designed to recognize and in some instances instantly release the shipment unless sampling and examination are required for public health reasons.
Limited Sampling and Examination
Food imported under the VQIP program may be subjected to limited sampling and examination except for the following situations:
- There is cause such as an outbreak of illness or outbreak which warrants an investigation
- To build a statistically necessary product risk profile that needs to be derived from surveillance sampling without any bias.
- To audit a portion of import shipments under VQIP to ensure that products declared as VQIP are what had been on the original VQIP application.
FDA Sampling at Preferred Location
When the FDA has to examine a shipment that came in under VQIP, the agency will examine and collect samples at the food destination or any other place that the VQIP importer prefers. In case a VQIP shipment is denied entry the FDA will help the importer request the CBP to allow the export of the rejected products from any port the importer prefers.
Faster Lab Results
If the FDA collects samples from a VQIP shipment, the importer will have their entry expedited through the FDA’s laboratories.
The FDA has a dedicated desk that assists VQIP importers that have concerns and questions that need to be dealt with by FDA staff.
Who is Eligible for Participation in the VQIP
There are several criteria that importers of food items in the United States have to meet to be eligible for the VQIP program. These requirements are
- You have a three-year history of food imports into the US – The import history may be based on all food imported even if they are not what would typically be on the VQIP list.
- You possess a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number – All entities conducting business with the United States government can apply for a DUNS number via the D&B (Dun & Bradstreet) website.
- You work with paperless brokers/filers who were rated favorably in the most recent FDA Filer Evaluation.
- You do not import or intend to import foods that are on the Class 1 recall or import lists on your VQIP application.
- Neither you nor any of the entities associated with the VQIP import (may include anyone throughout the supply chain such as the broker/filer foreign supplier or the HACCP importer of food) even if they are not in the application are the subject of an ongoing judicial or FDA administrative action (actions may include a debarment, an injunction or import alert). You should also not have a history of significant non-compliance with food safety standards set by the FDA with no evidence of corrective action taken to right things.
- If you are a HACCP or FSVP importer for a VQIP food you will need to comply with supplier verification in addition to other responsibilities of importers under the appropriate seafood HACCP, juice HACCP or FSVP regulations.
- You have an up-to-date facility certification from the FDA (Accredited Third-Party Certification Program) for every foreign supplier from whom you intend to import in your VQIP application.
- You have developed and implemented a VQIP Quality Assurance Program and the appropriate documents of the program have been submitted with the VQIP application.
- You have not been the subject of sanctions, forfeitures, or penalties applied by the US Customs and Border Protection agency related to the security and safety of imported products in the past three years.
- You have paid the user fee before the start of the VIPQ fiscal year which is the first of October every year.
Why is there a Fee for Participating in VPIQ
The FDA incurs costs administering the VPIQ program and these are recouped in annual user fees. The costs include application review, conducting inspections of domestic and foreign importers participating in the program, and Information Technology platform maintenance costs. The FDA calculates the rates every year which are then posted in a Federal Register on the 1st of August every year.
The Application Process for VQIP
- To apply for consideration for the VQIP program, an importer has to:
Create an account on the FDA Industry Systems website.
- Submit a Notice of Intent to become a participant in the program from January 1st to May 31st
- Pay the user fee.
To complete the application you will usually need to have information that includes:
- Identity of the VQIP importing company
- Foreign supplier’s contact information and the list of foods imported
- Broker or filer’s contact information
- FSVP Contact information documents of your VQIP QAP (Quality Assurance Program).
When Does the Application Portal for the VQIP Close
The FDA’s VQIP application portal for the fiscal year 2021 will be shutting down on May 31, 2021. The portal has been open since January 1st, 2021. Applicants can typically confirm the status of their applications on the FDA website.