New online checks for Europeans going to US

29th July 2008, Comments 0 comments

Travellers heading for the US will have to fill out an online form three days before they travel as of January 2009.

29 July 2008

BRUSSELS - Europeans who travel visa-free to the United States can start registering in August for a new online security screening check that will become mandatory in January 2009 to enter the US, officials said Monday.

The new security measure will replace current paper forms that foreign visitors from the 27 countries that participate in the US visa waiver programme have to fill out once they enter US territory at airports and seaports.

It will not apply to land border crossings into the United States, where authorities will continue to use the paper forms.

The Electronic System of Travel Authorisation - or ESTA - "will help to modernise our pen and ink system and bring it into the 21st century," said Jackie Bednarz from the US Department of Homeland Security.

"All travellers including children of all ages must have an approved ESTA beginning 12 January."

No fee will be charged to fill out the online form, which will be valid for trips to the US over a two-year period or until the traveller’s passport expires within that time.

The measure is meant to increase security of the visa-waiver programme allowing the government to screen visitors before they travel.

There are 27 countries whose citizens are not required to obtain visas for US entry: 15 European Union countries as well as Andorra, Australia, Brunei, Japan, New Zealand, Iceland, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Norway, Monaco and Singapore.

Eight other countries could be admitted to the visa waiver programme in 2009.

The electronic system adds to existing identity and travel checks that Washington has imposed on foreigners since 11 September 2001.

Visitors already have to provide fingerprints to US border guards when entering the country; airlines they use forward data including passenger names, addresses, seat numbers, credit card information and travel details.

The new security measure is being studied by the European Union to determine whether it constitutes a new visa restriction.

European Union officials have warned that if the new online travel security document represents a new visa requirement, the EU might introduce countermeasures for American visitors.

The US government has repeatedly reassured the EU that the new system would not amount to a new visa, but would simply replace the current forms Europeans have to fill out when they arrive in the US

Those green and white forms require visitors to supply their names, passport details, the address where they will be staying and answer various questions, including whether they have been convicted of war crimes.

Travellers will have to submit their online application at least three days before they head to the US and most should be approved within 24 hours, US officials said. Those who have their online forms rejected will have to apply for a visa or seek further help at their local US embassies.

Bednarz added the online form will be available in more languages like French, German or Spanish as of 15 October. The website is currently available only in English during its testing phase.

[AP / Expatica]

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