Washington: Travellers from Japan, western Europe and a number of other countries must request authorization to enter the United States on the Internet from January 2009, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said on Thursday.
These countries are currently exempt from visa requirements to enter the United States for short visits under the Visa Waiver Program, and the new program will keep travel to the United States “visa free” for travelers from VWP countries.
Instead of travellers filling out paper I-94 visa waiver cards en route to the United States, the new measure requires online registration.
In a statement, the DHS said mandatory prior visa authorization is required for travelers from January 12, 2009. The service has accepted voluntary visa applications for over two months, since 1 August.
“Over 200,000 travelers have sought electronic travel authorization in the weeks since the site went live, and 99.6 percent of them have been approved the vast majority in under one minute,” said DHS assistant secretary for policy Stewart Baker.
“Obtaining this advance information makes visa-free travel more secure, an enhancement that allows us to expand the valuable Visa Waiver Program.”
The new measure is among the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, which sought to promote laws that tighten border security in the wake of the 11 September attacks in 2001.
The DHS recommends that applications are submitted as soon as an applicant begins making travel plans. Upon authorization, travelers can enter the United States for 90 days for business or pleasure. The website is https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov.
Instructions on how to obtain travel authorization are available on the website in English and 13 other languages - Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Slovene, Spanish and Swedish.
Citizens of 27 nations - including several EU member states as well as Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Brunei - are covered by the Visa Waiver