The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced the new online travel system for air and sea travelers on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). This new system, called the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), became accessible for voluntary completion on August 1, 2008. Under the new system, travelers for business or pleasure who plan on entering the US on the VWP will be required to log on to the ESTA website and obtain a clearance for travel to the US. Although the program is voluntary at this time, ESTA will become mandatory for VWP travelers on January 12, 2009.
ESTA Travel Authorization
Once ESTA becomes mandatory, visitors to the US who are entering visa-free under the VWP will be required to visit the ESTA website and complete an on-line application. Individuals entering the US with a visa will not be required to complete an ESTA application. DHS recommends that the on-line application be completed no later than 72 hours prior to travel. The application contains questions similar to the I-94W, such as name, date of birth, duration of trip and address in the US, and whether the applicant has been convicted of a crime. Once a traveler completes the application, they will usually receive a response within seconds. The response will be one of the following:
Authorization Approved – travel authorized
Travel Not Authorized – applicant must apply for a visa at an Embassy or Consulate prior to travel to the US
Authorization Pending – traveler will need to check the ESTA website within 72 hours to receive a final response
ESTA approvals will be valid multiple entries to the US for two years or until the applicant’s passport expires. The applicant should log on to the website to change destination addresses and itineraries for future trips.
Failure to complete ESTA and admission to the US
Once ESTA becomes mandatory, failure to complete the on-line application and obtain travel authorization may result in the traveler being denied boarding, experiencing significant delays on entry to the US or being refused admission at the port of entry. Similarly, travelers who complete an ESTA application and receive an Authorization Approved message are not guaranteed entry to the US – the approval only authorizes the traveler to board the aircraft.
VWP travelers may complete their ESTA application and find more information on ESTA at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta.
 Citizens or nationals of the following countries are currently eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP: Andorra, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom
Contributed by Christi Hufford, Siskind Susser PC.