As the travel industry made the transition into the 21st century, US Customs and Border Protection also upgraded the way it processed each
US visa application. Traditionally, the I-94W system was used, but its age meant that there were numerous flaws and an incompatibility with the needs of today's travellers. Inspired by the Australian ETA visa system, the US's ESTA procedure has brought many advantages to travelling to America, making the experience for tourists and professionals more convenient.
The ESTA is required for travellers who are intending to visit the US for business or pleasure over a maximum of 90 days. This system is directed towards travellers who do not already possess a visitor's visa and for citizens of the 36 countries who are part of the Visa Waiver Program. In order to be an eligible candidate for an ESTA, you will need to be a national from one of the countries in the initiative as well as be in possession of a return or onward plane ticket.
From 2010 onwards, the law states that an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation form needs to be filled out. Because of how this can be completed and paid for online, the length of time needed to complete the application is minimal and the paperwork is processed by the authorities quickly. Even though it is recommended that an ESTA application is completed as soon as the travel itinerary has been finalised, an online form can be submitted and accepted as little as 72 hours before departure. Applying at the last minute can increase chances that ESTAs won't be processed in time, or that no alternatives will be found in the event of the application being declined.
To apply for an ESTA with the American Visa Bureau, applicants should begin by completing their
online ESTA application. This takes approximately 15 minutes to complete, with most applications being processed instantly (although the process may take up to 72 hours).
The benefits to applying for the ESTA using the American Visa Bureau's service is that you will be provided with regular email reminders to keep you aware of the details attached to your ESTA and also given the ability to easily update the travel information for each new visit to the United States.
Despite the fact that you do not need to have booked your flights prior to filling in your visa forms, it is recommended that you know the carrier you are flying with and the flight number of the service you are using. This is because entry under the Visa Waiver Program also stipulates that the carrier a traveller uses needs to be approved by the US authorities. If you apply without information regarding your flights, updating your ESTA when you have this information to hand is essential.
On the whole, ESTA applications are successful, as 99.5 per cent of submissions made to the authorities are accepted. In the rare event of an application being denied, the next stage is to apply for a visa through your nearest US Embassy.
ESTA works by enabling a traveller to enter the US numerous times over a two year period. Even though this visa is required by law before a passenger can travel on a plane bound for America, entry into the country is subject to approval by immigration authorities at the airport where you are destined to land. If there are changes in your circumstances, such as a change in marital status, an update needs to be made to your
ESTA to reflect this if you are travelling again. Similarly, should your itinerary for an additional visit change from the journey made previously, it is recommended that you update your visa accordingly. This will ensure that the authorities have all of the information they need upon your arrival, eliminating the need for questions to be asked.
Upon arrival in the US, there are a few formalities as you progress through the airport. This includes a picture being taken as well as the fingerprints of your left and right index finger being scanned digitally. When combined with information about where you are staying on the first night, and your machine-readable passport, a comprehensive picture will be given to the US Customs and Border Protection authorities.
Alternative forms of visas include the B1 visa for business visitors, who are able to stay in the US for six months to pursue commercial interests. This is also flexible and extendible by a further six months if the visa holder can prove that more time is needed. This can be advantageous compared to the ESTA because of how the length of stay is longer than three months. Alternatively, B2 visas for tourists are also active for six months and some of the main criteria include a valid passport, a good character and the ability to financially support yourself. Should your ESTA be refused for whatever reason, it is recommended that you apply for one of these visas.
Through applying online you will be able to ensure that your holiday gets off to a flying start. As long as all of the information is filled in correctly, obtaining a visa for travel to the US is easier than you think.