|U.S. Government Announces Enhancements to ESTA System for Visa Waiver Country Visitors
ASTA International Members:
If you have clients who regularly travel to the U.S., you should be aware of yesterday’s announcement from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regarding enhanced screening for visitors from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries. The changes, part of an effort to respond to the rising number of Islamist militants in Syria who hold Western passports, mean that those seeking to travel to the U.S. from countries in the program will be required to provide additional data fields of information in the travel application submitted via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization.
As background, the Visa Waiver Program enables eligible citizens or nationals of designated countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without first obtaining a visa. A listing of the 38 countries currently part of the VWP can be found here.
Since 2008, visitors to the U.S. from VWP countries have been required to go through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) process. ESTA is an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the VWP. The ESTA application collects biographic information and answers to VWP eligibility questions. ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel, though it is recommended that travelers apply as soon as they begin preparing travel plans or prior to purchasing airline tickets. The ESTA fee is $14, which covers the traveler for two years. (This fee will remain unchanged.)
The changes announced yesterday include new data elements added to the ESTA application – such as additional passport data, contact information, and other potential names or aliases – as well as modifications to existing ESTA questions. The changes are detailed in full below.
According to DHS, “we are taking this step to enhance the security of the Visa Waiver Program, to learn more about travelers from countries from whom we do not require a visa.” At the same time, DHS is “confident these changes will not hinder lawful trade and travel between our Nation and our trusted foreign allies in the Visa Waiver Program.”
Further information on the DHS’s announcement can be found here:
NEW DATA ELEMENTS