17 October 2008

Airlines worried visitors to America will forget new visa laws

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Airlines have expressed concerns their Australian and New Zealand tourists will be unaware of the new American visa rules for short-term visitors, reports The Australian, and will be refused entry to the U.S.

As of the 12 January 2009, visitors from countries that are part of the visa waiver program with America, including Australians and New Zealanders, must register online with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).  The visa waiver program allows citizens and nationals of selected countries to travel to the US for up to 90 days without a visa, provided they are travelling for business or leisure. 

Currently, the visa waiver program requires travellers to fill in a green card en route to America; however, after 1st August this year, travellers have the option to apply for the ESTA online.  The authorisation number must be filled in at least 72 hours prior to travel to America and will expire after two years.

Airlines are concerned there will be passengers who booked well in advance of their New Year flights and who will be unaware of their responsibility to register for travel to the US.  Those nationals from visa waiver countries who arrive at an American airport without an ESTA number or visa for America will be refused entry. 

Hawaiian airlines have told reporters airline staff cannot resolve the problem for passengers who have not organised their legal entry to America. 

"To avoid potential conflict between passengers and airlines on the day of departure and the disappointment of not being able to board a flight to America, even with a valid air ticket, I urge passengers and travel agents to be aware of this requirement now, and to ensure the procedure is followed," Hawaiian Airlines sales and marketing manager Australia Sherilyn Robinson said. 

The American Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in American visa and immigration services.

Article by Jessica Bird, American Visa Bureau.

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