As of yesterday, January 12, all nationals and citizens of Visa Waiver Program countries are required by law to obtain a travel authorization prior to traveling to the U.S., instead of filling out paper forms at the airport. Travelers must fill out the forms online at least 72 hours in advance of travel. Tourism advocates worry, however, that the new rules have not been communicated properly to travelers, who may be turned away at airports for non-compliance.
Travelers from VWP countries, 35 countries whose citizens don’t need a visa to enter the U.S., must register through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization as part of new security procedures. ESTA is intended to replace the I-94W paper form by collecting biographical information over the Internet from visitors from countries that participate in the VWP.
Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, which is the new name of the merged Travel Industry Association and Travel Business Roundtable, said in a statement that "America's travel community supports the ESTA for its potential to improve security and increase convenience for travelers from visa waiver countries. However, we are concerned that many of those who must comply with ESTA are not aware of it, do not fully understand what it is, or may be turned away at airports for non-compliance if the new requirements are fully enforced.”
Travelers can apply online for free, but government officials warn that unauthorized third-parties have established Web sites that charge visitors seeking to travel to the United States under the VWP for information about ESTA and for submitting ESTA applications to the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of the traveler.