Applying for the Electronic System for Travel Authorization or ESTA is only done online and usually does not take long. Once an ESTA form has been adequately filled and submitted, the application is checked against U.S. law enforcement databases. This process takes place in a matter of seconds (usually within 4 seconds because it is a web-based system), after which a response is determined.
You can make your application here.
Getting a Response from an ESTA Application
Usually, there are three responses that your ESTA application can generate:
- A travel approval, meaning that the authorization has been given.
- Travel not authorized, which means that you are not cleared for approval.
- Authorization pending.
Applying for an ESTA: What You Need to Know
ESTA is an electronic system used to determine the right of visitors to travel to the United States. This does not make it an authorization to enter the country, as the final decision is determined at the point of entry by an officer of the Customs and Border Protection.
It is a compulsory prerequisite for citizens of countries that have signed up to the VWP or Visa Waiver Programme. The VWP is an agreement between the United States and 38 countries, which allows citizens of those countries visit the U.S., and U.S. citizens visit those countries and stay without a visa for up to 90 days at a time. After leaving, it is advisable to leave a reasonable amount of time between visits, so that the officers at the Customs and Border Protection do not suspect that you are trying to live in the United States.
To be eligible to travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Programme, the following requirements must be met:
- You must be a citizen or national of one of the 38 countries participating in the programme.
- You must be visiting on business or as a tourist (for pleasure).
- You must not have a valid visitors visa.
Essentially, in order to apply, you need:
- A valid e-passport.
- Credit card.
- Valid contact information.
An ESTA application is done online, and should be tendered at least 72 hours before you make the trip. It is usually advisable to apply as soon as you are sure of your travel dates, so that you can have alternative lines of action, depending on your ESTA response. This is why it works to your advantage if you apply before paying for your trip, in case the travel authorization gets denied.
An ESTA is valid for two years, which means that you can apply at anytime, anticipating a future trip. Although the online form may ask you to fill in airline information and so on, these details are optional and will not affect the processing of your application.
The authorization allows you to enter the United States for multiple times of up to 90 days each time. With an ESTA, you are allowed a two-year entry period. If your passport expires and you get a new one, you have to reapply for an ESTA approval. In addition, if your passport is going to expire in less than two years, you will receive an ESTA that is valid until the passport’s date of expiry.
In the following circumstances, a new ESTA authorization is mandatory:
- If you change your name.
- If you change your gender.
- If your country of citizenship changes.
- If there is a change of circumstances.
What to Do If Your ESTA is Not Authorized
Your ESTA application will usually generate three responses. If your authorization is said to be pending, it means a little more time is needed for a decision to be made on your application. However, if travel is not authorized, you are not cleared to travel to the United States. In this circumstance, you should apply for a paper travel visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
Failing to Apply for ESTA
ESTA is a system put in place to enhance the Visa Waiver Program security features. If you already have a valid visa, you need not apply for ESTA. However, arriving the U.S. without ESTA could put you at risk of being detained or sent back home. Actually, you will most likely not be allowed to board without an ESTA approval.
Your VWP Eligibility Can Be Revoked
Although a citizen or national from a VWP country is eligible to enter the U.S., a new requirement implemented in 2016 states that if a citizen of a VWP country travelled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia or Yemen any time as from March 1, 2011, they are no longer eligible to benefit from the VWP.
This requirement also affects those who have dual citizenships in a VWP country and Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria. This restriction can only be waived in special cases where the Secretary of Homeland Security is convinced that such a waiver is in the interest of law enforcement or national security.
What You Should Know About Recent Legislation and ESTA
The U.S. president recently signed an executive order suspending immigrants from countries mostly in the Middle East, including Iran, Syria and Yemen. This law, however, does not target the Visa Waiver Programme and by extension, ESTA. There have been a lot of concerns that this law may eventually have an implication on visitors from VWP countries, which means visitors from countries under the programme would need to seek non-immigrant visas.
The executive order instructs the State Department to temporarily suspend the U.S.’s Visa Interview Waiver Program, which allows travelers renew travel authorizations without an in-person interview.
So Far, Travellers Using The ESTA Programme Are Unaffected
Generally, this action is not expected to alter the Visa Waiver Programme or ESTA. As such, travellers using or intending to use the ESTA to travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Programme should remain unaffected by the travel ban that has been implemented. The suspension of the Visa Waiver Interview Programme should not be taken to be the same as the Visa Waiver Programme which is very much in force.