From January 2009, short-term visitors will only be granted entry to the US once they have registered on the website of the Electronic System Travel Authorization. This replaces the current procedure of filling out a green form handed out during the flight.
The move is meant to place greater emphasis on defending the country’s borders against the threat of terrorism. The new system is also seen as a response to the perceived growth of religious extremism in European countries, whose citizens are able to enter the US more easily.
It is hoped the new requirements will highlight people with questionable backgrounds before they leave their home country. Currently, they are able to fly to America, only to be sent back straight away by customs officials if deemed not suitable for entry.
The revamped system will affect the 27 nations covered by the visa waiver program, which includes Great Britain, and gives citizens the right to remain in the US for short periods of time without a visa. All the information filled in on the website will be held by US authorities for 15 years.
Those who fly regularly across the Atlantic stand to benefit as an approved application remains valid for up to two years, or until the traveller’s passport has run out. It also entitles the holder to multiple entries to the US during this period.
The site officially opens on August 1, with potential travellers encouraged to sign up as soon as possible.
Michael Chertoff, the US secretary of homeland security, said: “Getting this information in advance enables our frontline personnel to determine whether a visa-free traveller presents a threat before boarding an aircraft or arriving on our shores.
“It is a relatively simple and effective way to strengthen our security, and that of international travellers, while helping to preserve an important programme for key allies.”
By Vikki Miller