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US Security Updates and their effects on the ESTA

The terrorist attacks that took place in Paris on 13 November caused immediate changes to US security measures. These changes also come as a result of what is considered an ‘ongoing threat’, and thus certain actions have been put into place.

The Visa Waiver Programme makes travel to the USA a simple, easy process, for citizens of countries participating in the scheme. Instead of applying for a visa, passengers can apply for ESTA online (the Electronic System for Travel Authorization), which minimises the administrative procedure and applied for over the internet.
 
In order to keep this system running properly, the USA frequently revise their security measures, to ensure that they know exactly who is in the country and the general reason for their being there. The benefit of such updates is that the system always has safety and security as its fundamental priorities, both for the country itself and for passengers.
 
The terrorist attacks that took place in Paris on 13 November caused immediate changes to such security measures. These changes also come as a result of what is considered an ‘ongoing threat’, and thus certain actions have been put into place.
 

Immediate changes

 
The only immediate change to the ESTA process is that, now, applicants will be asked to provide details as to any previous trips to countries that are considered to constitute ‘terrorist safe havens’. This measure has been put into place by the Department of Homeland Security, who, alongside the Director of National Intelligence, will regularly review these countries to ensure that all risk assessments are accurate and relevant.
 
So, for the time being, this is the only change to the online ESTA form itself, and will mean one extra question in the form.
 

Changes over time

 
Over the next two months, the Department of Homeland Security and the Secretary of State, along with other agencies, will be accelerating the review process for Visa Waiver Programme countries. After these two months, a report will be sent to the president, which will include two basic components.
 
Pilot programmes will be established, based around using biometrics as part of the Visa Waiver Programme. This would mean that applicants would need to provide fingerprints and/or photographs as part of their online ESTA application, as a measure to increase security.
Furthermore, there would be a review of the countries that are currently members of the Visa Waiver Programme, to see whether any alterations need to be made to their ESTA conditions.
 
A process will begin to evaluate how much information regarding terrorism is shared between the USA and Visa Waiver Programme member countries. This will be issued to see whether there are any deficiencies and improvements that could be made. The Department of Homeland Security will simultaneously provide assistance to such member countries in helping them to share this kind of information, using biometric tools as a major resource.
 
Furthermore, approval will be sought to be able to fine airlines $50,000 (instead of $5,000) for failing to verify a passenger’s passport data. This means that we can expect to see a great level of passport checks from airlines, and potentially more data asked in advance when purchasing a flight ticket or checking in.
 
The primary aim of these changes is to enhance security in the United States, and the primary tool to do so will be encouraging the sharing of information between the USA and Visa Waiver Programme member countries. More than encouraging information with regard to terrorism, it will aim to make better use of this information, treat it more effectively and develop a great degree of communication between all partners of the VWP.
 
Changes will continually be made to the ESTA and Visa Waiver Programme, and such changes have already proved highly beneficial in recent years. These extra measures are nothing to be concerned out, but rather extra reassurance that the USA is serious about security and safety of its residents and tourists.

Travelling to the United States? Do you have your pre-planning checklist in order? Visit our ESTA Guide for more information about obtaining your travel permit. We'd love to hear from you. Send us your comments or questions for travel assistance.