Are executives from your foreign operations traveling to the United States for business meetings soon? Be aware that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) made Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) registration mandatory for travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) in January 2009 (see the November 2008 issue of the Immigration eAuthority). The VWP enables citizens and nationals from 35 countries to travel to and enter the United States for business or visitor purposes for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. As of January 12, 2009, VWP travelers needed to complete ESTA registration prior to boarding a flight to the United States.

CBP recently issued a news release announcing that it will commence active enforcement of the ESTA requirement on March 21, 2010. After that, carriers (such as airlines) will be fined for boarding VWP travelers who have not completed registration and VWP travelers will likely be refused entry to the United States. Reports indicate that nearly 10 percent of all VWP travelers have not been completing ESTA registration, yet many have not been prohibited from boarding flights and entering the United States. The new CBP policy will likely end such leniency and refusals to board passengers will be more common.

Note that U.S. citizens and permanent residents, foreign nationals with a valid U.S. visa, and Canadian citizens do NOT need to complete ESTA registration prior to traveling to the United States.

For more information on the VWP, click here. For information on registering for ESTA, click here.