Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recently reminded Visa Waiver Program Travelers that beginning August 1st, 2008, the Electronic System for Traveler Authorization (ESTA) will be accessible via the internet for citizens and eligible nationals of Visa Waiver Program countries to apply for advance authorization to travel to the United States through the Visa Waiver Program. The program will initially be voluntary. However, effective January 12, 2009, all Visa Waiver Program travelers will be required to obtain an electronic travel authorization prior to boarding a car-rier to travel by air or sea to the United States through the Visa Waiver Program.

In order to obtain an electronic system authorization, Visa Waiver Program travelers will have to log on to the ESTA website at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov and complete an on-line application in English. The web-based system will prompt Visa Waiver Program travelers to answer basic biographic and eligibility questions typically requested on the Form I-94W. CBP stated that applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel but that it is recom-mended that applications be submitted no less than 72 hours prior to travel to the United States through the Visa Waiver Program. CBP stated that in most cases, travelers will receive an immediate response either: authorizing travel; not authorizing travel and referring the traveler to a U.S. Consulate or Embassy to obtain a nonimmigrant visa before traveling to the United States; or indicating that authorization is pending and that the traveler will need to re-check the website for updates within 72 hours to receive a final response.

CBP stated that the authorization is valid for up to two years unless revoked or until the traveler’s passport expires, whichever comes first. If the traveler will be making multiple entries into the United States the traveler may update information about his/her destination address or itineraries through the ESTA website before traveling to the United States.

CBP warns that an ESTA authorization is not a guarantee of admissibility to the United States at the port-of-entry. The ESTA authorization only allows the traveler to board a carrier for travel to the United States through the Visa Waiver Program.