U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued the following reminder to apply early for Visa Waiver authorization, via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. Presumably the reminder is prompted by the surge of travel during the holidays. In our experience, most electronic systems for immigration at some point or another slow down for processing. It makes sense to plan ahead.
Here is the full advisory from CBP:
WASHINGTON D.C. – U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), consistent with existing requirements, reminds international travelers using the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) for travel to the United States to apply as soon as possible but not less than 72 hours before their international flight is scheduled to depart.
Due to changes in ESTA application processing, real-time approvals will no longer be available. Citizens of participating Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries traveling to the United States are strongly encouraged to apply for an ESTA at the time of booking their trip and no later than 72 hours prior to departure. Applicants who apply on the same day of their flight’s departure risk not having an approved ESTA prior to their scheduled departure. International travelers without an approved ESTA will not be authorized to board their flight.
ESTA is an automated system that assists in determining eligibility to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program and whether such travel poses any law enforcement or security risks. Upon completion of an ESTA application, travelers are notified of their eligibility to travel to the United States under the VWP.
“Since its implementation in 2007, ESTA has counterbalanced vulnerabilities inherent in visa-free travel by adding a layer of advance scrutiny that enables our officers to focus on the small population of potentially dangerous travelers,” said Todd Owen, CBP Executive Assistant Commissioner of the Office of Field Operations.
Recent enhancements to the ESTA process make querying application status much smoother. Upon successful submission, the applicant is provide an email containing their application number and a link taking them directly to the ESTA web page.
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States without a visa for stays of 90 days or less for business or pleasure when they meet all requirements. Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the U.S. under the VWP and is required for all VWP applicants in the air and sea environment.
ESTA was one of the measures under the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007. The electronic travel authorization system was designed to enhance the security of the Visa Waiver Program by evaluating a traveler’s eligibility prior to their boarding a U.S. bound flight.
For detailed information on VWP/ESTA, please visit the CBP site at: cbp.gov/esta, or, the U.S. State Department travel site. To avoid third-party fees, CBP encourages travelers to apply use the official ESTA website.