The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows nationals of certain countries to come to the U.S. “visa-free” as long as they have a machine-readable e-passport. However, coming to the U.S. under VWP is not as simple as just hopping on a plane and expecting to be admitted to the U.S.
Before coming to the U.S. under the VWP, visitors need to apply for authorization to use the program. The application is called the Electronic System for Travel Authorization or ESTA. ESTA allows the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to pre-screen foreign national visitors traveling to the VWP. Those who do not or cannot obtain ESTA authorization must apply for a B-1/B-2 Visitor Visa to come to the U.S.
1. The Purpose of ESTA
ESTA was developed to allow DHS to pre-screen all travelers who intend to come to the US on VWP before they leave their respective countries. It’s important to remember that ESTA is NOT A VISA. ESTA is merely a way for US immigration officials to collect biometric information about the traveler and determine eligibility to travel under the VWP before actually traveling.
Additionally, ESTA is not an application for admission into the United States nor does it determine if the applicant is admissible to the U.S. Even if authorization is given under ESTA, a visitor can still be denied entry by a Customs & Border Protection officer.
While the ESTA is an additional step in coming to the US, it has not become a major bar for most applicants. According to DHS records, over 96% of all ESTA applications are approved.
10 Things You Need To Know About ESTA
1.ESTA is required for anyone traveling or transiting through the U.S. under the VWP. All other travelers with a valid visa, and citizens of certain other countries are not required to obtain authorization via ESTA before travel.
a.Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria cannot travel under the VWP.
b.Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2015 cannot travel under the VWP unless the travel was for diplomatic or military purposes.
2.Those traveling via VWP and applying for ESTA must have a machine-readable e-passport, no exceptions.
3.An approved ESTA application is usually valid for 2 years or until the date the applicant’s passport expires, whichever is sooner. If the applicant gets a new passport, changes his or her name, gender or country of citizenship, and/or the answers to the “yes” or “no” questions have changed, the applicant needs to obtain a new travel authorization.
4.Travelers must seek authorization via ESTA before boarding, although it is strongly advised that travelers apply for ESTA at least 72 hours in advance. ESTA authorization is communicated to the airline carriers who can deny boarding to any VWP traveler who does not have authorization via ESTA. At the Port of Entry, CBP officers can deny entry to anyone without authorization.
5.Most applicants will receive an immediate determination of the ESTA application. There are 3 responses applicants can receive:
a.Authorization Approved: This means that the applicant is now authorized to travel to the US using Visa Waiver.
b.Authorization Pending: This means that the applicant needs to check back on the website within 72 hours to receive an update on the application.
c.Travel Not Authorized: This means that the traveler has been denied authorization to travel under the VWP and must obtain a visa from the U.S. Consulate.
6.Citizens of Canada, Bermuda, Micronesia and Marshall Islands do not need authorization via ESTA before travel.
7.Potential travelers to the U.S. are not required to have a specific destination or travel dates ready when filing for ESTA. In fact, it is recommended that travelers seek ESTA authorization as far in advance of travel as possible to avoid any delays in case a visa is needed. Travel destination(s) or itineraries can be updated in the ESTA application before travel, however it is not required.
8.There are 2 fees for ESTA:
a.Processing Charge of $4 required for all applicants.
b.Authorization Charge of $10 required for all applicants who obtain authorization (those denied authorization will not be charged the $10).
Fees must be paid by credit or debit card (MasterCard, VISA, American Express, or Discover).
9.The application can be prepared and payment submitted by any third party or travel agent.
10.Travelers do not have to bring a printout of the ESTA status when traveling but it is recommended that the applicant print a copy of the status confirmation that contains the ESTA application number in case changes or updates to the application need to be made.
All persons traveling to the US under the Visa Waiver Program must get ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) authorization.
ESTA is a simple online application system where Visa Waiver travelers can apply for a travel authorization. The ESTA process enables members from Visa Waiver Program countries to easily travel to the US for business or pleasure for 90 days or less without obtaining a visa.
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