The Department of Homeland Security has created an internet-based travel authorization system to verify that people who are entering the United States on the Visa Waiver Program are pre-authorized to travel before they arrive in the United States. While the ESTA program will be pre-authorizing travel to the United States, it only authorizes a traveler to board a carrier to travel and is not designed to make a determination on a non-citizen’s admissibility to the United States. The information that is submitted through the ESTA program is the same information that is currently submitted on the I-94W form when a visa waiver applicant arrives in the United States.
The information that is submitted on the electronic application will be checked against all appropriate databases including lost and stolen passport databases and various government watch lists. An ESTA travel authorization will be good for two years, or until the individuals passport expires, whichever comes first. ESTA will have the capability to accommodate last-minute and/or emergency travel needs. ESTA will start on August 1, 2008 as a voluntary program. Using ESTA for travel pre-authorization will become mandatory as of January 12, 2009. The ESTA website is at http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/id_visa/esta/