ESTA US Visa application form Sydney

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ESTA is a web-based data collection system, initially launched by the Department of Homeland Security in August 2008, which determines the preliminary eligibility of visitors to travel “visa-free”, under the VWP, prior to traveling to the United States.

According to recent DHS data, more than 1.2 million ESTA applications have been received, and over 98% of applicants have been approved. DHS further states that will take a ‘reasonable approach’ to travellers who have not obtained an approved travel authorisation via ESTA, and will continue an aggressive advertising and outreach campaign throughout 2009.

Travellers without an approved ESTA are advised, however, that they may be denied boarding, experience delayed processing, or be denied admission at a U.S. port of entry.

There has been some degree of confusion as to when and how ESTA applies. In brief, ESTA only applies to foreign nationals (Non-U.S. citizens) who are eligible to travel to the United States under the terms and conditions of the Visa Waiver Program, without a Visa or Green Card, or other government-issued permission.

Any person who needs a visa or has a visa already does not need to complete the ESTA process prior to traveling to the United States. Essentially anyone who would complete a WHITE I-94 card at arrival in the U.S., does not participate in ESTA. On the flip side, anyone who would normally complete a GREEN I-94W card at arrival in the U.S. MUST now complete ESTA.

While the ESTA is geared to eventually phasing out paper I-94W cards altogether, it is CBP’s current advice and recommendation to complete BOTH, the ESTA online, AND the paper I-94W card for inspection. It is further recommended that the ESTA-traveler bring a paper printout of their ESTA application response in order to maintain a record of their ESTA application number.

For years, visitors from certain foreign countries have been able to travel to America without first getting a formal Visa sticker placed in their passport. Implemented in 1998, the “Visa Waiver Program” (VWP) has allowed for visitors of several countries to come to America for tourism or business purposes for up to 90 days without getting a Visa put in their passport. During 2007, more than 15 million visitors from VWP countries arrived in the United States.

As of January 12, 2009 America’s new ESTA program requires Visa Waiver Program visitors coming to the U.S. for tourist or business purposes via a plane or ship to “register” online before entering the United States to see if they pose a law enforcement or security risk to the U.S. ESTA is not required for land crossings. Officials are asking that the ESTA registration be done at least 72 hours prior to leaving, but theoretically it is possible to register at the last minute. An ESTA Travel Authorization is free, valid for 2 years, and valid for multiple entries.

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