Saturday

26th Sep 2020

US to screen foreign air passengers

  • The new system will add a fresh burden to passengers keen to visit the US (Photo: Wikipedia)

Washington is set to electronically collect data on all European visitors who currently enjoy visa-free travel to the United States. An online registration system, first kicking-in on a voluntary basis, will ask for a number of personal data, including on health.

The Electronic System of Travel Authorisation (ESTA) - presented by US Department of Homeland Security representative Jackie Bednarz on Monday (28 July) - is designed to track high-risk passengers and will be officially launched on 1 August.

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The procedure will become mandatory only on 12 January 2009, with all passengers from visa vaiwer programme countries - including children - required to receive an authorisation to travel before they board a US-bound airplane or vessel.

On top of 15 EU states - Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK - the obligation will also apply to Andorra, Australia, Brunei, Iceland, Japan, Liechtenstein, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Singapore and Switzerland.

The system will ask for identical data as is currently required when filling out the I-94 immigration form on board, including biographical and passport information, data on mental and physical health, drug abuse as well as crime history.

The application - submitted no later than 72 hours ahead of the departure - could be filled in by a relative or travel agent on behalf of a passenger. The subsequent authorisation for travel will be valid for multiple entries over a two-year period.

"The ESTA is not a visa," Ms Bednarz was cited as saying by AFP, although admitting that the US is aware of additional efforts on the side of passengers to complete the form.

She also indicated that the US may eventually charge for ESTA registration, saying "In the future, there may be a fee." Currently a US visa application costs $131 or €83.

MEPs disagree with US on visas and tourist tax

The US will continue to treat EU members on a bilateral basis in its visa regime, but will review its passenger data policy towards Europeans, interior minister Janet Napolitano told MEPs on Friday. She also defended a controversial tourist tax as the only way to fund tourism promotion in the country.

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