Countries that have received Visa Waiver credentials (benefits?) from the US are in general countries whose citizens and governments are friendly with the USA, some even for as long as several hundred years ever since the dawning of the US, like the Netherlands and France. It is therefore a little strange that travelers from these countries are always used as the guinea pigs for potential screw ups.
One of those screw ups for example was that when the Visa Waiver program was introduced, immigration officers at will started crossing out the visas in many of the countries’ citizens passports. Under the claim that they did not need these anymore, potential 179 day stays were now curtailed to the 90 days that fit the Visa Waiver Program.
Well now Homeland Security and its TSA say it will no longer require travelers from Visa Waiver Program countries to fill out the arrival-departure I-94W form starting this fall. Nice. No more fumbling for a pen in a crowded airplane or airline crews running out of forms or even the risk of losing the stub that declares you’re in the country legally.
The form, normally filled out on the plane, will be eliminated with the introduction of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) at all U.S. airports by the end of this summer, said the Department of Homeland Security.
All travelers entering the United States (by air or sea) under the visa waiver program are required to hold a valid ESTA travel authorization. The purpose of ESTA is to allow DHS to pre-screen all Visa Waiver Travelers before they leave their respective countries. U.S.-bound travelers are recommended to apply for a Travel Authorization at least 72 hours prior to departure.
The visa waiver program is a U.S. government program that enables citizens and nationals from the 36 Visa Waiver Countries to enter the United States for tourism or business purposes for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. The advantage of entering the United States under the visa waiver program is that you can travel to the United States on short notice without obtaining a visa.
And that is exactly what’s wrong with this “improvement”. A Visa is a blanket approval, it tells officials that you went through the screening process and admission is granted. What this program does is turn the clock back. Before you make your reservation you need to make sure you’re approved, however to get approved you need to fill out date, airline and code of your arrival. Anybody can tell me how this works???
The elimination of the paper form enables travelers to provide biographical, travel and eligibility information through ESTA prior to departure for the U.S. website information suggests.
The U.S. Travel Association even applauded the development. U.S. Travel CEO Roger Dow said eliminating the form will “help reduce confusion and increase the speed of processing for millions of our guests.” I wonder if Mr. Dow has ever imagined standing on the other side of the fence as a foreigner coming to visit? If so he would tell a different story.
Here are the facts: People from Visa waiver countries traveling all the time to the US should not have a problem theoretically as their faces and fingerprints are already multiple times stored in the data bases. New travelers however, first time vacationers or business people might just think this is a bit too much. No one is paying for a ticket without having admission approval. Admission approval however requires exactly that. Won’t go over very well. And for heaven’s sake let’s hope there are no computer screw ups or power outages. Imagine the scenario that Air France just landed an Airbus 380 with 800 people aboard, all visitors from Visa Waiver countries and… then the system shuts down.
No, travel just got bit more complicated for this country’s friends. Just my opinion.