ESTA Requirements

AS some readers may be aware, at the start of 2009 travelers coming to the U.S. in accordance with the visa waiver program will have to complete what's known as a Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) online.

All visa waiver visitors will have to have an approved ESTA for travel to the U.S. from January 12, 2009 and onwards. The ESTA came into being as part of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, and is intended to provide another layer of security to ensure that those traveling to the U.S. are eligible to do so, and do not pose law enforcement or security risks.

"ESTA counterbalances vulnerabilities inherent in visa-free travel by establishing an additional layer of advance scrutiny that will enable the Department of Homeland Security frontline personnel to focus even more on the small population of potentially dangerous travelers," says a release from the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (USCBP_.

Travelers to the U.S. can actually apply for an ESTA now, though they are not required to have one until after the New Year. The process for doing so is extremely simple. Go to https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/esta.html? and you'll be directed to a series of steps that will take no more than a few minutes to complete.

It asks for the usual biographic information - name, date of birth, country of citizenship, country of residence, and the traveler's passport number. It also asks, but doesn't require, a date that travel to the U.S. will commence, and a U.S. address that will be used while in the country.

Then there are seven yes/no questions, asking if the applicant has a communicable disease, serious criminal record (particularly drug offenses), or has engaged in espionage. It also asks about prior U.S. visa history, if the applicant has ever been deported or if the entry to the U.S. has ever been denied.

Once the application is complete the information is submitted electronically, and the traveler can expect to receive a response almost immediately. However, when the law comes into effect next year, travelers will have to submit applications at least 72 hours prior to departure for the U.S.

There is no cost to apply for an ESTA. However, any time a new immigration stipulation comes into effect some look at it as an opportunity to make some easy money. Therefore, ignore all the agencies offering their "services," for a fee, of course, to complete what's already a super-easy application process.

What if an ESTA is denied? This doesn't necessarily mean that a person is barred from traveling to the U.S. However, the traveler would have to apply for a visa at a U.S. consular post in order to gain entry.

And what if a person shows up for U.S. travel without an ESTA after January 12? They're not going to be able to continue travel.

"Once ESTA is mandatory, all nationals or citizens of visa waiver countries who plan to travel to the U.S. for temporary business or pleasure under the visa waiver program will require an approved ESTA prior to boarding a carrier to travel by air or sea to the U.S. under the waiver program. Travelers who have not received ESTA approval by the anticipated mandatory compliance date may be denied boarding, experience delayed processing, or be denied admission at a U.S. port of entry," says USCBP.

An approved ESTA doesn't automatically mean that a person has been cleared for travel to the U.S. The person will still have to meet all other eligibility requirements at the port of entry.

For more questions and answers on ESTAs, visit http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/id_visa/esta/

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