web Musings of The Global Traveller

Monday, January 26, 2009

US Visa Waiver and ESTA

From last week, the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) program is now compulsory for visitors from visa waiver countries who are flying to (or transitting) USA (except for those visiting under one of the special visas). All of these people must apply for authorisation before checking in for their flight. As it may take up to 3 days for approval to be confirmed, it is not recommended you apply at the last minute.

You apply at the ESTA website. If approved then you are authorised for 2 years, or until expiry of your passport whichever is earlier. If not approved then you need to apply for a visa to enter USA, which normally takes some time (and $$) to arrange. Another reason to not leave it too late to apply for ESTA authorisation.

Despite the scary introduction screen it is fairly easy to use. One point not adequately explained on the website, and untested yet because it is a new system, is what happens if the address information is not updated between visits (such as when doing a mileage run computer access may be limited)?

There is however, already an issue. When ESTA was announced last year one "benefit" to passengers was to be the removal of the I-94W visa waiver form. Indeed one reason for a period of voluntary use of ESTA was to test out the systems, with an announced intention that I-94W would be gone once ESTA became compulsory. At some stage since then, the ESTA website has been changed to state there is a [mere] intention to get rid of I-94W at some stage in the future [date or criteria for choosing the date unspecified].

So, visa waiver visitors will now need both ESTA authorisation (before checking in) and complete an I-94W form (before arrival in USA). I understand the I-94W form has even been lengthened. Instead of saving time, the processes take even more time than ever. Bah.

There is an active thread on Flyer Talk discussing the latest developments and any issues arising.

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