04 June 2008

Electronic system soon to become mandatory for travellers to the US

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The United States government has announced that by early next year, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) will be the mandatory form of identification for travellers from those countries who are part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

The VWP allows citizens and nationals of selected countries to travel to the US for up to 90 days without requiring a visa, provided they are travelling for business or leisure.  Those countries include Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Currently, the VWP requires travellers to apply for a paper visa to America.  After 1st August 2008, travellers can apply for the ESTA online. 

ESTA is a web-based program designed to pre-screen travellers for potential threats to American secuirty.  The Government said all personal data gathered from an application will be archived for twelve years for legal purposes.

The Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, will announce when ESTA is to become mandatory for travellers to America.  Allowing 60 days notice, this is likely to be published in the Federal Register in November 2008.  The paper visa form (I-94W) will then become an invalid process for VWP nationals to obtain a temporary visa to America.  He added, "Once ESTA is mandatory, all travellers from VWP countries will be required to obtain an ESTA approval prior to boarding a carrier to travel by air or sea to the United States under the VWP."  Travellers are also strongly encouraged to apply for a visa to America at least three days prior to travel.

More information on American travel visas, or to find out if your country is a member of the VWP, visit the Visa Bureau’s visa pages.

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