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Electronic system for travel authorization for travellers to the USA

17 July 2008

The US Dept. of Homeland Security has announced the implementation of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which will eventually replace the paper-based procedure of Visa Waiver Program (VWP) nationals completing a written I-94W form.

The purpose of ESTA is to determine, almost immediately in many cases, if an individual is eligible for VWP travel. ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel and once approved, will be valid for up to two years or until the applicant’s passport expires, whichever comes first. Authorizations will be valid for multiple entries into the US. In order to facilitate the process, it will be recommended to submit the application as soon as the applicant begins planning US bound travel and not less than 72 hours prior to travel. ESTA will however accommodate last minute and emergency travellers.

From August 1, 2008, voluntary applications will be accepted through the ESTA Website. Initially, the website will only be operational in English but additional languages will be available later. Until ESTA is mandatory, VWP travelers will still have to complete an I-94W form en-route to the US, for presentation at a US port of entry.

It is anticipated that the implementation of mandatory ESTA approval will commence on January 12, 2009. Once ESTA is mandatory, all VWP travellers will be required to obtain ESTA approval prior to boarding.

Accompanied and unaccompanied children, regardless of age, will also de required to obtain ESTA approval.

In the event that an ESTA applicant is denied authorization to enter the US under the VWP, they will be referred to the US Dept. of State travel section for information on how to apply for a visa to travel to the US.

Whilst ESTA approval authorizes travel to the US, it does not guarantee admissibility; this will be determined by a US Customs and Border Protect (CBP) officer at ports of entry or pre-clearance facilities.

The following are eligible to enter the US under the VWP: Nationals of Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland (Rep. of) Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and holders of British passports endorsed “British Citizen”