USCBP Initiates New Electronic System For Screening Visa Waiver Program Entrants
United States Customs and Border Protection ("USCBP") has announced the implementation of a new Electronic System for Travel Authorization, known as ESTA.
ESTA is an automated system used to determine the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program ("VWP") and to determine if there is any law enforcement or security risk posed by such an entrant. The 27 countries that take part in the program are: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
In its initial phase, the program is voluntary. The system was activated on August 12, 2008 on the ESTA website, https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/. The ESTA program will become mandatory sixty days after was announced in the Federal Register in November 2008, which will be on January 12, 2009.
Once ESTA becomes mandatory, all nationals or citizens of VWP countries seeking to travel to the United States will be required to obtain an electronic travel authorization through ESTA prior to boarding a U.S.-bound plane or vessel. A third party, such as a relative or travel agent, will be permitted to obtain the authorization. All children, regardless of age, will also be subject to the requirement. At present, there is no fee to use the ESTA program. The web-based application requires applicants to provide, in English, biographical data and flight information, as well as questions about communicable diseases, arrests and convictions for certain crimes, and past history of visa revocation or deportation. Each approved ESTA application will be valid for a period of two years. If an ESTA application is denied, the applicant will be told that they need to contact a U.S. consulate to obtain a visa for entry to the United States.
As the system is now voluntary, travelers should strongly consider whether they would like to use it. As with any electronic system, early users are likely to face issues that should be resolved over time, and which could lead to travel delays.
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