A visit to any country requires certain legal formalities, documents to be verified, valid passport and an authorized visa. However, if you are traveling to the United States of America, the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is a facility which allows the nationals of certain countries to visit the U.S. for the less than 90 days without obtaining any visa. However, travelers from very countries are allowed to use this facility.
To avail the VWP, you need an authorization though Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). There is a list of 40 countries, whose nationals are permitted travel to the US without any visa, but on arrival they must comply with the following requirements:
· An e-passport (i.e. a passport with an integral chip)
· Online registration through the ESTA
· Comply with standard ESTA terms and conditions
Under ESTA, the visitor can stay in the US for 90 days or less and can travel only for the purpose of business and tourism. The approval for ESTA generally extends till 2 years or the date of expiry of the passport of the applicant, whichever is earlier. For every new ESTA application, the associated fee is charged.
Why does a traveler need to reapply for ESTA, even if it has not expired?
Besides ESTA reaching its expiration date, a traveler needs to reapply for ESTA as a new travel authorization in the following cases:
· The name of the traveler gets changed.
· A new passport is issued to the traveler.
· The country of citizenship of the traveler has changed.
· The gender of the traveler has been changed.
· Any of the traveler’s previous responses under the previous ESTA application has been changed.
Here are the 5 things you should know before your ESTA expires:
1. ESTA can be reapplied not renewed
Under no circumstances, can you renew your ESTA. There is no provision whereby you can renew your ESTA permit, however, you can re-apply as many times as you require. The application takes barely 10 minutes to complete. The online registration or re-registration is an easy process and does not take too much time.
Before applying for a new ESTA, you need to ensure the following factors:
· Are you eligible for ESTA?
1. Are you an eligible national or citizen of a country which is a member of the Visa Waiver Program?
2. Do you not possess any visitor’s visa?
3. Are you applying for a new authorization for a group of applicants or an individual?
4. Are you traveling to the US for the purpose of business or as a tourist only?
5. Is your travel plan to the US less than 90 days?
If your answers to the above questions are ‘Yes’, then you are eligible for ESTA. Once your eligibility is determined, you need to arrange the various documents for the purpose of the ESTA application.
· Here is a list of the documents that you will require:
1. You need to provide your valid contact information.
2. You must possess a valid visa from the Visa Waiver Program country.
3. You are also required to provide information regarding your most recent employment.
4. You must have a valid credit card to pay the application fee.
Check here the requirements for applying for ESTA Travel Authorization.
2. ESTA and your Passport are inseparable
ESTA is specific to your passport. If you are planning to travel to the US and your passport is stolen or lost, you will have to reapply for ESTA. In case you have a new passport, you will need to get a new ESTA as well. The ESTA of any traveler is electronically linked to his/her passport number.
In case any information in the traveler’s passport gets changed, a new travel authorization is required to be obtained through ESTA. Whatever information is reflected on your ESTA must comply with the information on your passport word by word.
A biometric passport is essential to travel to the U.S. with ESTA. For the last 10 years, the U.K. has been issuing biometric passports, however any passport issued prior to that will most probably be non-biometric. Under such cases, before applying for ESTA, you will have to renew your passport.
As your ESTA expires with your passport expiry, it is recommended to check that your passport has a validity of at least 2 years. However, it is not a compulsion by law but recommended to save time and money for the reapplication of ESTA in the course of passport expiration.
3. Visa can be applied even at the non-approval of ESTA – Visa Vs ESTA
If your ESTA is not approved, it will not have any adverse effect on your visa application. It is highly recommended to fill your online ESTA registration form, a few weeks before you are planning to travel. In case your application is not approved, you should give yourself enough time to apply for a visa.
Any traveler having a valid visa is not required to apply for ESTA. ESTA is a completely different type of travel authorization compared to the visa. With ESTA you can travel to the USA without a visa. Even if you belong to a country, which is eligible for ESTA, there are still some regulations which need to be complied with to get an approval for ESTA.
If your ESTA application is rejected and there are no changes in circumstances, your next application is likely to get rejected as well. In such cases, it is advisable to apply for a non-immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate or Embassy.
It is advisable not to re-apply for ESTA with false details, as the stringent screening process might get you debarred from entering the country permanently under the Visa Waiver Program.
It is wrongly presumed that if a traveler’s visa application has been rejected, then after changing citizenship, he/she will be able to travel to the U.S. under the VWP. The application explicitly asks if the applicant has ever been denied the U.S. visa? This question clearly states that the domicile of the traveler is irrelevant and if the applicant’s answer is ‘no’ considering the change in his/her citizenship, the application will be covered under the preview of fraud. If the visa of the applicant has ever been rejected, it should be indicated in the aforesaid question clearly. Any misleading information may lead to permanent denial of entry of the concerned applicant in the U.S.
4. The process of ESTA is completely online
If you apply for a visa, you can hand-over your documents manually to the nearest embassy but the process of ESTA is online only. There is no manual documentation required. With a large range of databases, whatever data you enter in the system get auto-checked. Based on the information gathered digitally, the approval or rejection of the ESTA is done.
· Duration for which the online ESTA application data is stored:
1. The ESTA application remains valid for a limited period of time, which is generally 2 years or the visa of the applicant, whichever expires earlier. Once expired, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) maintains it for an additional 12 years for the purpose of an investigation, law enforcement or national security, on retrieval basis, if required.
2. In the case of retrieval, access to the information is limited only to the officials who require it for the aforementioned reasons.
3. The active law enforcement checks the records of the data while CBP matches it to the enforcement activities. All the applications for which ESTA was denied are also covered under the preview.
4. The data on these applications remain accessible for the related law enforcement agencies throughout life.
5. As the automation of paper, I-94 has been allowed by the ESTA and the retention schedule prescribed under paper 1-94 is for 75 years, data under I-94 and I-94W is maintained for the same period to facilitate the benefits related to the various enforcement purposes including immigration.
· Is DHS allowed to share the date of ESTA applicants with others?
1. There is an agreement between the DHS and the Department of State (DOS), that DHS can share ESTA data to help the officers of DOS determine if the visa should be issued to the applicants whose ESTA application has been rejected or not.
2. The information pertaining to the ESTA application can be used by the other branches of DHS on a need-to-know basis only.
3. If DHS believes that information sharing will lead to the enforcement of criminal or civil laws, it can share the information with the respective tribal, local, state, federal and foreign government or other government organizations which are responsible for the prosecution of any violation as well as enforcement of rule, statute, regulation, license or order.
4. Any information provided by travelers to DHS is not accessible by the carriers. They can only access the information regarding the ESTA status of the passengers through Advance Passenger Information System to know about the authorization and ESTA status of the passengers.
· Is the application data used somewhere else except determining ESTA eligibility by DHS?
Yes, if an applicant is found to be a violator or suspect in the process of screening, DHS can provide the information to the respective authority for the purpose of law enforcement.
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5. Three responses you can expect for your ESTA application.
Within 24 hours of ESTA application submission, there is an active response received by the applicant as follows:
1) Travel unauthorized: When you are not eligible to apply under ESTA. So, if you want to visit the US, you need to apply for a valid passport. If your ESTA application is rejected by the U.S. authorities, the following are the two options which can be considered:
2) You can reapply for the ESTA with a new application after 10 days of refusal of the first application. The procedure of the new application will commence from the beginning as a fresh application. You shall also be required to repay the application fee. It is worth noting that the application fee is non-refundable in case of refusal of ESTA.
3) If your circumstances are same and there is no error in furnishing the information in the previous ESTA application, it is judicial to apply for a visa as further applications by you are likely to get rejected as well. However, there is no surety that your visa application will get approved by the U.S. Embassy. So, it is advisable that you apply for the visa carefully, with complete documentation.
No reason of refusal is mentioned by the U.S. authorities when you receive a notification regarding the rejection of your ESTA application. It is general practice to not disclose the reasons for rejection to the applicants. Hence you need to figure out the reason for rejection on your own by making a comprehensive analysis of your submitted application. There is no point in contacting the U.S. officials for reasons of rejection, as they will not be able to help you in this case. It is advisable to reapply for a fresh ESTA if you are able to allocate any mistake while filling the ESTA application at your end.
· Pending Status: After the first stage of screening via several databases if the decision is still to be made, it will go under a scrutiny check again. In such a case, a definitive decision is declared within 72 hours. For these 72 hours, your application status will reflect as ‘Pending’
· Approved Status: It signifies that your ESTA is absolutely approved and you can fly to the US as per your convenience, anytime. An official confirmation number is also provided. It will remain valid for 2 years. The date on which ESTA will expire is also mentioned.
So, you are all set to enter the U.S. with your approved ESTA.