22 April 2009
Warning about dodgy American visa websites
The US Government is still lodging complaints that dodgy websites are making money from the free American visa system called the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA).
As of January this year, the US Government introduced a American visa replacement program for those travellers who do not officially require a visa to travel to America. This means that all nationals or citizens from countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program who wish to travel to America for business or travel purposes for 90 days or less must obtain approval through the ESTA .
ESTA is a web-based program that collects security information from visa-free travellers and allows the American Government to screen travellers before they board a plane to America. It replaces the old-style paper forms previously filled out en route to America and lasts for two years per traveller. The Government requires travellers to complete the Authorisation at least 72 hours prior to travel.
Taking unfair advantage of the situation are unofficial websites charging users to lodge their ESTA online through their site, with fees ranging from $45 to $70. These websites have not only paid to rank above the official government website for the free ESTA, they have made their websites look official and once the person has completed their payment and entered their details, they are redirected to the Government website to enter all their details again.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, a US consulate official said that Google had denied requests to have the paid advertisements removed.
"Our understanding is that Google sees these websites as paying customers who have not violated the law in any way," a consulate spokesman said.
A spokesperson for Google said that they were unaware of the complaints from the Government but that all advertisers on Google must adhere to strict regulations.
The NSW Office of Fair Trading has acknowledged that the websites can continue their operations so long as they do not "mislead or deceive the consumer into believing that they do not have any other option".
The American Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in American visa and immigration services.