Considerations when traveling to the US on an ESTA

Published on: Jul 31, 2018, Last Edited: Jul 31, 2018 | Tags: ESTA Application, ESTA

Introduction

Ever since he started to run for president, Donald Trump has made no secret of the fact that he intended to tighten the USA immigration policy to make it more difficult for people from other countries to live and work and even, in many cases, visit the USA. While certain changes are taking longer to implement than Trump expected, many people who would previously have found it easy to gain a USA visa are currently being denied, in some cases to international alarm. 

ESTA Utility

At first, it seemed like it would actually become easier for tourists to visit the USA when the ESTA registration was introduced. This is a special Electronic System for Travel Authorization that potentially makes it much easier for people from one of the countries included in the Visa Waiver Program to apply for a visa. This programme means that people from any of the 38 countries that are included are able to travel to the USA for either business or tourism without having to obtain a visa from their nearest embassy or US Consular Post. These visa waivers are usually granted for 90 days and people who meet the requirements are permitted to apply more than one time per year if they wish. 

However, on closer inspection it appears that actually being granted the visa under the visa waiver program is not quite as easy as stated. In order to be granted a visa, there are many different requirements that applicants must meet in addition to being one of the 38 qualifying countries. 

ESTA Processing Overview

The first step is receiving an ESTA, which is valid for two years and needs to be updated every time the applicant changes their personal details in any way. The application process is managed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and applicants need to fill out a long and rather complicated form to be authorised for travel. The application takes approximately 30 minutes to complete, and a decision is reached within 72 hours. There is no guarantee that the ESTA will be granted. 

Comparing the USA visa policy with that of other countries around the world helps to illustrate the fact that the ESTA has made life more complicated for people who wish to enter the USA for tourism or business. Many countries also offer visa waiver programmes for members of certain countries. However, there is no need to apply for the visa in advance and virtually no risk of being rejected. 

In Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, for example, thousands of people from all around the world fly into those countries each year without having to purchase a visa in advance. After getting off the aeroplane, they simply join the visa queue and receive a visa stamp free of charge, which usually permits them to stay in the country for 30 days, or in some cases longer. There is no interview process and no questions are asked unless the person wishing to receive the visa has some suspicious stamps or comments in their passport. The entire process usually takes less than five minutes and after passing through immigration the applicant is free to explore the country at their leisure. 

There are also a number of other restrictions under the new USA immigration policy, some of which are rather disturbing. While visiting the USA, people who entered under the VMP are not permitted to change their status. This means that people who decide they wish to enrol in a university or college to further their education will not be able to apply for a student visa, while people who fall in love and want to get married cannot apply for a marriage visa. 

ESTA Compromises

Perhaps the most disturbing of all is the fact that VWP participants are forced to waive their right to meet with an Immigration Judge. This means that people who have serious problems during their visit to the USA regarding their visa status may not be able to get the help they need. 

People from all over the world, especially Eastern Europe and Asian countries like Laos and Myanmar, are finding it particularly difficult to gain access to the USA. Many contractors who previously worked in the USA for several months of the year are being denied access, while even foreign dignitaries are finding that they are no longer welcome. 

One of the things that it making it so difficult is that applicants only have one chance to fill in their form and they are automatically rejected if it is discovered that any information they supply is incomplete, erroneous or simply missing. 

Another point for concern about this issue is that it has been stated that people who are rejected due to an incorrectly filled in form or a form where information is missing may not be allowed to enter the USA as a tourist at any point in the future. Realistically, this means that anyone could be banned for entering the USA for life simply because they forgot to fill in one of the lines of their application form or tick one of the boxes. 

Conclusion

It seems that although many people are claiming that the ESTA and VMP policies are making it easier for people to visit the USA, the reality is very different. The new policies make it all too easy to discriminate against people from certain countries simply by claiming the information they supply is incorrect.

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ESTA is a mandatory travel authorization for travelers visiting the United States either by Sea or Air for tourism, transit or business visits under 90 days.

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