While the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is not mandatory at this time, the program went online on August 1, 2008 and allows Visa Waiver Program (VWP) travelers to participate voluntarily. As described in our June 2008 Immigration Insights, ESTA will determine, in advance of departure, whether a traveler is eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP and whether such travel poses a law enforcement or security risk. If the traveler does not pose a risk, he or she will receive an electronic travel authorization prior to boarding a U.S.-bound airplane or cruise ship. Interested travelers should visit https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta.
ESTA is scheduled to become mandatory on January 12, 2009 but the final rule setting this date has yet to be published. It is expected to be published in mid-November.