New requirements for travellers to US

| 05/01/2009

(CNS): In one week’s time the United States will start using a new border control system to screen short-term foreign travellers. From 12 January all nationals and citizens from Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) countries, including Caymanians using British passports, will have to get prior electronic travel authorisation when travelling to US under the VWP.

This new electronic authorisation, the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA), requires travellers from Visa Waiver Countries who wish to stay in the US for 90 days or less to use the Internet to apply for permission to enter the country three days before departure. Authorisation will be valid for two years or until the applicant’s passport expires. Applications must be submitted no later than 72 hours prior to departure, and those who come to the airport without ESTA authorisation are likely to be forced to reschedule their flights or cancel.

ESTA applies only to people using the VWP. It does not apply to the local Cayman-US visa-waiver, administered by the Cayman Islands Passport and Corporate Services Office. The VWP, by contrast, falls under the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

According to the DHS, ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travelling to the United States under the VWP, and in most cases there will be an almost immediate determination of eligibility for travel under the VWP. However, DHS recommends that applications be submitted as soon as a VWP traveller begins to plan a trip to the United States. VWP travellers are not required to have specific plans to travel to the United States before they apply for an ESTA. The traveler must provide biographical data including name, birth date, and passport information and answer VWP eligibility questions regarding communicable diseases, arrests, and convictions for certain crimes, and past history of visa revocation or deportation, among others.

An approved ESTA is not a visa. It does not meet legal or regulatory requirements to serve in lieu of a visa, when a visa is required under US law. The visa process generally requires an appointment, a personal appearance at a US Embassy/Consulate, and an interview with a consular officer. Visas are issued by the US Department of State, whereas ESTA authorisation is issued by the US Department of Homeland Security.

If an application is denied, it will prohibit the passenger from travelling under the VWP but will not affect visa eligibility.

Gail Duquesnay of Adventure Travel and the former consular agent for the US in the Cayman Islands told CNS that travellers need to remember that the information they put on-line needs to match the green form they fill in on entry and that the on-line details will need to be edited each time people travel if they are going to a different destination.

“The registration is valid for two years but while your personal information is not necessarily going to change in that period, unless you are taking identical trips every time you go to the US you will need to go on-line and edit the details about where you are staying,” she said, adding that any changes in passport details will also have to be recorded. She also said that most local agents will help people do the registration if they don’t have access to the Internet but that the website was free and there was no need to go to other websites and pay for assistance.

Caymanians travelling from the Cayman Islands directly to the US and back, with a Cayman Islands passport and a valid local visa-waiver (issued by the Cayman Islands Passport and Corporate Services Office) do not have to apply for electronic travel authorisation, nor do those travelling on a Cayman Islands or other passport, with a valid US visa issued by the US Embassy in Kingston, or any other US Embassy.

This authorisation may be obtained online for free, through the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation. It is administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through a US government website.

VWP travellers should be aware of unauthorised third-party websites that charge for information about ESTA, and for submitting ESTA applications to DHS on behalf of the traveller. These businesses and websites are not endorsed by, associated with, or affiliated in any way with DHS or the US Government. Using one of these, or any other, private service to apply for travel authorisation via ESTA will not expedite the granting of approval.

For more information visit the US DHS website

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