As of January 12, 2009, Visa Waiver Travelers to the United States Must Pre-Register
Previously, most tourists and business visitors from 35 countries1 traveling to the United States for less than 90 days could simply travel to the U.S. without a visa under the so-called Visa Waiver Program. As of January 12, 2009, however, all Visa Waiver travelers are required to obtain travel authorization under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before entering the U.S.
The purpose of the ESTA is to strengthen travel security to the U.S. and to protect international airlines from liability for transporting foreign nationals who may not be eligible for entry into the U.S. The ESTA application is free; any Web site asking for a fee to submit such an application is not the Department of Homeland Security’s official Web site. Use of a private service to apply for the ESTA and/or paying a fee for submission of such an application will not provide any advantage to the applicant.
An individual can apply for a travel authorization online at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov. Applicants should apply at least three days prior to their intended departure date. The automated form requests the traveler’s biographic and travel information, and asks seven security questions. It can be completed by the traveler or a third party and the system will provide an automated response once the application has been processed. Once an application has been submitted, the system will provide the applicant with an application number that the applicant should keep for his or her records. If travel is approved, the system will provide an Authorization Approved screen displaying the travel authorization expiration date, which the traveler should print out and maintain with his or her passport. Before the traveler boards a flight to the U.S., the airline will electronically verify with U.S. Customs and Border Protection that the traveler has an approved travel authorization on file. Travel authorizations are valid for a period of two years from the date of authorization or until the traveler’s passport expires, whichever comes first.
Holland & Knight’s immigration attorneys are also available to answer any questions relating to travel to or from the U.S.
1 Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Korea, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.