The electronic pre-screening system called ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) becomes mandatory for Visa Waiver Program (VWP) air and sea travelers on January 12, 2009. ESTA requires VWP passengers traveling to the United States by air or sea to register online with ESTA and obtain a travel authorization before they begin travel to the United States under the VWP. DHS began accepting voluntary ESTA applications starting on August 1, 2008. The ESTA requirement does not apply to VWP travelers entering the United States at land Ports of Entry.

After submitting an ESTA application, three responses are possible:

  •  Authorization Approved
  •  Travel Not Authorized
  •  Authorization Pending

Generally, an ESTA travel authorization will be valid for two years from the date of authorization, or until the traveler's passport expires, whichever comes first.

A response of Travel Not Authorized means that the traveler cannot enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. To enter as a visitor, he or she would have to apply for a B visa at a U.S. consulate.

A VWP traveler will have to obtain a new ESTA travel authorization if any of the following conditions occur during the validity of the traveler's last authorization:

  • The traveler is issued a new passport
  • The traveler changes his or her name
  • The traveler changes his or her gender
  • The traveler's country of citizenship changes or
  • The circumstances underlying the traveler's previous responses to any of the ESTA application questions requiring a "yes" or "no" response (eligibility questions) have changed.

An ESTA authorization is only a determination that an alien is eligible to travel to the United States to apply for admission under the VWP. It is not a determination that the alien is admissible, which is a decision made at the port of entry [8 C.F.R. 217.5(f)(4)]. Also, an ESTA authorization does not impact the 90-day limitation on the duration of each visit under the VWP once admitted to the United States.


References

  • DHS rule on ESTA travel authorization: 73 Fed. Reg. 32440 (June 9, 2008), modifying 8 C.F.R. § 217.5