From January 12, 2009 Australians (as well as visitors from 34 other countries) using the Visa Waiver Programme to travel to the United States of America will have to submit their travel information three days in advance of their departure to receive authorization to enter into the USA. This authorization may be obtained online through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
This new scheme which has been on trial since August of 2008 and is referred to as an ‘electronic visa’ will replace the I-94W forms which, in the past, passengers have been prompted to fill out while on board their flight. No longer will passengers have to scurry through their bags in search of a pen to fill out the I-94W forms. Passengers will have up to 72 hours before boarding a US-bound plane or cruise ship to complete their electronic visa or risk being declined at their departure gate. There is no charge to complete the application and once approved, it is valid for two years.
Speaking from prior experiences, the queues for entering into the USA have never been painfully long or daunting, but this new paper-free process promises to deliver shorter queues and quicker processing times when passengers disembark their flight and reach the USA.