Visa Waiver Program authorizations go online

Beginning early next year, people traveling to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) must get an authorization online before to coming the U.S. The process was previously based on paper forms.

Starting Jan. 12, travelers from other nations planning to use the VWP to enter the U.S. without a visa and stay for up to 90 days as allowed by the program must  use the Homeland Security Department’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). That process eventually will replace the written I-94W form that travelers have traditionally used.

The travelers' information can be submitted online to the ESTA system any time before they travel, although DHS recommends that they do so at least 72 hours before departure. The authorizations will be generally valid for as long as two years, or until the applicant’s passport expires, DHS said. The department said in most cases, the system will send an immediate response.

DHS officials said in a notice published today in the Federal Register that ESTA satisfies a provision in the 2007 law that required DHS to work with the State Department to establish a fully automated electronic authorization system as part of the VWP.

DHS published an interim final rule that officially established the program on June 9 and the program began taking online applications voluntarily on Aug. 1.

In October, President George W. Bush announced that Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and South Korea would soon be joining the 27 countries that already participate in the VWP. 


[The following update was added Nov. 14:]


Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he was disappointed that DHS had announced ESTA as fully operational and was planning to include new countries in the VWP on Nov. 17. In a statement, he cited concerns that the Government Accountability Office had identified with the ESTA and VWP programs.


“I am concerned that DHS moved hastily to certify the electronic travel authorization before it is capable of doing what it is supposed to,” said Lieberman, who co-authored the 2007 law that required the automated system.


“Seven years after 9/11 and amid ongoing concerns about homegrown terrorism in Europe, I am disappointed DHS is moving ahead to add new countries to the Visa Waiver Program before security precautions for current member countries are effective,” he added.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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