In August 2008, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) established a new Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) as part of the Visa Waiver Program. ESTA is currently a voluntary system. However, the system will become mandatory on January 12, 2009. Once the system is mandatory, all nationals or citizens of Visa Waiver Program countries who plan to travel to the United States for temporary business or pleasure will require an approved ESTA prior to boarding a carrier to travel by air or sea to the United States through the Visa Waiver Program. CBP also indicated that transiting visitors through the United States from a Visa Waiver country who do not have a visa, must have an ESTA clearance in order to transit through the United States after the ESTA system becomes mandatory.
CBP has indicated that it has received approximately 68,000 ESTA applications. It indicated that a majority of the applications are approved within seconds. After submitting an application, the system will give one of three responses: 1) Travel authorization approved; 2) Travel not authorized; or 3) Pending. CBP indicated that the longest an application has been pending so far is six hours. CBP indicated that there currently is not a fee for the ESTA application. However, CBP did indicate that the statute does allow for a fee to be collected.