A new regulation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security requires all travelers visiting the country to fill out an electronic travel authorization form 72 hours before their carrier, be it by air or sea, is scheduled to leave. Countries like Ireland eligible to travel to the U.S. under the visa waiver program are subject to this added layer of security, which came into effect on January 12. The Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection have provided a secure public web site (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta) with the automated form for travelers, or a third party, to complete in order to be granted travel authorization to the U.S. Biographical and travel information are required to determine if a person is entitled entry into the country. An automatic response will be sent back via e-mail on a person's travel status, usually within seconds. Travelers will still be subject to routine security questioning at ports of entry into the U.S. The new system, called the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) performs checks against law enforcement databases around the globe. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said getting this information in advance enables his department front-line personnel to determine whether a visa-free traveler presents a threat, before boarding an aircraft or arriving on U.S. shores. The denial of a travel authorization only prevents travel under the visa waiver program and is not a determination of eligibility for a visa to travel to the U.S. If denied an Irish person may still apply for a visa through the American Embassy in Dublin or the consulate in Northern Ireland. Travel authorizations are valid for two years from the date of authorization and for multiple visits, or until a person's passport expires, whichever comes first. The new system, which Chertoff describes as "a relatively simple and effective way to strengthen our security, and that of international travelers, while helping to preserve an important program for key allies," is part of an overall anti-terrorism procedural upgrade recommended by the 9/11 Commission. Although applications may be put forward at any time prior to travel, the Department of Homeland Security recommends that applications be submitted at least 72 hours prior to travel. "It is individual behavior, individual biography, individual biometrics and individual travel history that is the fairest and also the most efficient way to identify those who may pose a threat to the United States if they're permitted to enter," commented Chertoff last month. Currently there is no fee to apply for travel authorization. However, according to the Department of Homeland Security's website, there may be an application fee in the future. Travel agents are warning clients to be wary of online scams charging up to $50 to help a person make an application.

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