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US goes online for visa waiver travellers

Passengers must apply in advance
Travel documents

Visitors flying into the United States will need to provide personal details in advance and online from next January, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced earlier this week.

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is part of the Visa Waiver Program which allows more than 15 million travellers from Great Britain and Western Europe into the country each year. Its introduction follows recommendations from the 9/11 Commission.

Travellers will be required to supply details such as biological data, their flight number, destination address and the answers to a list of security related questions at least 72 hours before they fly. The new online system will replace the green forms that passengers currently complete during their flights.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said, “Rather than relying on paper-based procedures, this system will leverage 21st century electronic means to obtain basic information about who is traveling to the US without a visa.

“Getting this information in advance enables our frontline personnel to determine whether a visa-free traveler presents a threat, before boarding an aircraft or arriving on our shores. It is a relatively simple and effective way to strengthen our security, and that of international travelers, while helping to preserve an important program for key allies.”

The Visa Waiver Program applies to people travelling to the United States for leisure or business trips of less than 90 days in length. When the system is in place the DHS will advise travellers to apply online as soon as they start planning their journey and 72 hours before their flight at the latest.

Once approval is granted it will be valid for multiple entries for up to two years or until the applicant’s passport expires, whichever comes first. If approval is denied, the passenger will need to apply for a visa.

The new system is expected to be implemented on 12 January 2009.

Written by: Maxine Clarke

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