Mandatory Use of Electronic System for Travel Authorization for Visitors on Visa Waiver Program2 min read
The paper Form I-94W, Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival/Departure Record, that is currently in use at the northern and southern boundaries is being eliminated.
The VWP allows residents of the VWP nations to enter the United States for up to 90 days for tourism or as business visitors without obtaining a visa. ESTA has been required for VWP travelers arriving by air or sea since 2008. Although Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers have the final say at the border, ESTA provides a kind of “pre-approval.”
Travel Authorization for Visitors on Visa Waiver Program
The new rule is simply an expansion of the program to “produce a consistent, modern Visa Waiver Program admission policy. Strengthen national security through enhanced traveler vetting, expedite entry processing. At land ports of entry, collect Form I-94W information electronically. And reduce inadmissible traveler inspections, generating time and cost savings for CBP  and Visa Waiver Program travelers.”
Except for one big difference, the ESTA guidelines for land borders are the same as air and sea borders. VWP travelers arriving by air or sea should acquire ESTA approval. Before embarkation and give the ESTA data to their air or sea carriers. VWP travelers arriving by land, often in private vehicles, should acquire the ESTA approval. Just before admission for presentation to CBP.
The Department of Homeland Security has a couple of tips:
- The agency suggests applying for ESTA at least 72 hours in advance to avoid possible processing delays.
- After 2nd May 2022, any VWP travelers arriving without ESTA pre-approval will be asked to return to Canada or Mexico. To make that application (which, hopefully, will take just a couple of hours, but that is not guaranteed).
- ESTA is generally approved for two years and is valid for multiple entries. Anybody who as of now has a valid ESTA approval can use that and doesn’t have to reapply for an arrival at a land port of entry.
[H-1B cap registrations increase by 57% to stand at 4.83 lakh for fiscal 2023]
Residents of Canada are visa excluded and have not been required to have an ESTA pre-approval for entry in visitor status by air or sea. This same exemption likely will apply to land entries.