Reuters – “U.S. to require some travelers to get Internet authorization for travel to America”

U.S. to require some travelers to get Internet authorization for travel to America

Reuters | July 28, 2008

The United States will start a pilot project Friday that will require travelers covered by its visa waiver program to obtain Internet authorization before boarding flights to America.

U.S. officials outlining the project, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, or ESTA, discounted concerns from the European Union that it could amount to the re-introduction of visas, though fees might eventually be charged.

“The ESTA is not a visa,” Jackie Bednarz, attaché for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said at a news briefing Monday. “It’s very different, in our minds.”

The plan is beginning at a time of friction over visas between Brussels and Washington. Michele Cercone, the spokesman for justice and security issues at the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, said the commission would have to assess whether the program was tantamount to a visa once the new regulations were formally published.

“We’ll have to see how it works and exactly what the measures will be,” Cercone said.

Only 15 of the 27 EU states are now covered by the visa waiver program. It does not apply to Greece or to 11 of the eastern countries that joined in 2004 and 2007. Twelve non-European countries, including Australia, Japan and New Zealand, are in the program.

The European Commission said last week that it would propose forcing U.S. diplomats to get visas to travel to the European Union unless Washington moved toward granting citizens of all EU states visa-free entry by the end of 2009.

The United States has said it plans to allow more EU states to join its visa-free program this year, and Bednarz said Washington believed the new system should make it easier to include more EU countries. She said the system would help identify travelers who were not authorized to travel to the United States.

The system will begin Oct. 1 after a two-month pilot program, Bednarz said. Electronic authorization will be a requirement for everyone covered by the waiver program starting Jan. 12.

While the U.S. authorities recommended that applications be submitted 72 hours before travel, in most cases authorization would be virtually instantaneous and would be valid for two years. The system will require travelers to complete an application on a Web site, answering questions they must now respond to on paper forms aboard flights or ships to the United States.

Published in: on July 30, 2008 at 9:22 PM  Leave a Comment  

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