ESTA is an automated system that determines whether a visitor is eligible to travel to the United States as part of the Visa Waiver Program. Authorization via ESTA doesn’t determine whether a traveler can be admitted to the United States. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials determine whether a traveler is admissible to the United States at the time of arrival. The ESTA application gathers biographic information and answers questions about eligibility for the VWP. ESTA applications can be submitted at any moment before travel. However, it is highly recommended that travelers apply soon after they start planning their travel or purchasing tickets for flights.
“Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007” (the 9/11 Act) amended Section 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This Act required the Department of Homeland Security to implement an electronic travel authorization system and other security measures to improve the VWP. ESTA permit provides additional security by allowing DHS to determine whether an individual is eligible for travel to the United States under VWP and whether such travel presents a security or law enforcement risk.
What is the U.S. Government doing to protect the privacy of ESTA information? Who has access to it?
The ESTA website allows applicants to submit information. These data are subject to the same privacy controls and restrictions as those used for similar traveler screening programs. Only those who have a professional need to access such information are allowed to see it. The U.S. government runs the website and uses technology to prevent unauthorized access. The Federal Information Security Management Act is the U.S. law that protects and governs information.
Who can apply for ESTA?
Any eligible nationals of VWP countries or citizens who intend to travel to the United States to do temporary business or pleasure must obtain authorization through ESTA before they can board a U.S.-bound plane or vessel. The United States includes the United States of America, Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico.
Unaccompanied and accompanying children of any age must apply for an independent ESTA permit. An ESTA application can be submitted by a third party (relative or agent) on behalf of a VWP traveler.
Electronic processing of the ESTA speeds up the process, allowing applicants to be cleared to travel to the United States quickly. The airline also transmits the applicant’s data electronically for quick and easy verification. Visa applications can take longer than expected, so many prefer to use the ESTA option.
The ESTA application has another advantage: it makes the applicant’s information available online. Traveler doesn’t have to give their information every time they visit the U.S. It is good to keep your ESTA document handy for safety reasons and speed up inspections. There may be times when immigration officials cannot access your online data.