New ESTA System Will Affect Visa Waiver Travelers
The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) released an interim final rule regarding the Electronic System Travel Authorization (“ESTA”) as part of the Visa Waiver Program (“VWP”). Mandatory implementation is set for January 12, 2009, while volunteer applications will be accepted beginning August 1, 2008.
ESTA is a web-based program in which all nationals or citizens of VWP countries, including children, regardless of age, will be required to receive an electronic travel authorization prior to boarding a U.S. bound carrier. ESTA approval only authorizes a VWP traveler to board the carrier; U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers will still make admissibility determinations at the time of entry to the U.S. Additionally, the ESTA is not a visa and individuals traveling on valid visas will not be required to apply for an ESTA.
DHS suggests ESTA applications be submitted no less than 72 hours prior to travel. Applications will be submitted online at www.esta.cbp.dhs.gov. Specific travel plans are not required to complete the ESTA but the VWP traveler must be prepared to provide biographical data including name, birth date, and passport information as well as answer eligibility questions regarding arrests, convictions, communicable diseases, past history of visa revocation, deportation, etc.
In most cases, ESTA will provide an almost immediate response of “Authorization Approved”, “Authorization Pending”, or “Authorization Denied”. Applications that are approved will be valid for a period of 2 years or until the applicant’s passport expires, whichever comes first. Pending applications will receive a final response within 72 hours. Those whose applications are denied will be referred to the U.S. Department of State to apply for a visa at a U.S. Consulate in order to travel to the U.S. Once ESTA becomes mandatory, travelers that have not received ESTA approval may be denied boarding, experience processing delays or be denied admission to the U.S.