18 November 2008

Thousands of people using new US online system for travel authorisation

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According to US officials, thousands of people have been trialling America's new online security screening system, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

As part of America's expanding Visa Waiver Program (VWP), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has introduced a new online system for travel authorisation.  The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) allows visa-free visitors to the US to complete a security check online before travelling to America. 

The ESTA replaces the paper form usually filled out on flights en route to America, and needs to be completed at least 72 hours prior to travel.  The ESTA lasts for two years per person, and allows DHS to maintain security and terrorist information.  DHS established the VWP two decades ago, and currently has 34 members.  Nationals from member countries can travel in the US for purposes of business or tourism for up to 90 days without a visa for America, including the UK, Australia and New Zealand.  This year, President Bush announced the DHS added seven countries to the list including the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and South Korea.

The ESTA is due to be mandatory as of January 12 2009, yet for the latter half of this year thousands of nationals from countries participating in the VWP have been testing the new system.  A spokesperson from the DHS, Jackie Bednarz, said only 0.5 per cent of applications had been refused so far. 

When the ESTA becomes mandatory for visitors from these countries in January next year, nationals from VWP countries will not be able to buy plane tickets to America before giving details of their plans through the ESTA, including their passport details, expected address in America, and war crimes convictions. 

"Not only does it work, but we have been able to ensure that people get a response to an application almost instantaneously," Bednarz 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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