How does ESTA application work?
Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is a system that ascertains the eligibility of travelers into the US under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The automated system was set up by the Department of Homeland Security after the 9/11 attacks and is meant to eliminate security risks into the country. It, therefore, does not restrict commerce or tourism. Although the ESTA application can be done any time prior to boarding, it is recommended to apply at least two hours before travel.
There are three main responses given normally within few seconds after application. The first response is authorization approval permitting the applicant to travel to the country under the VWP. The second response is authorization pending where the applicants are required to wait for a final response. The last response is application denied where applicants are referred to the Department of State website for more information and requirements for visa application.
The application number, which is needed for status and application update, can be retrieved at any time from the ESTA website. Under the Travel and Promotion Act of 2009, a fee is required for the application of ESTA. The fee includes a processing charge of four dollars and an authorization charge of ten dollars for the approved applications.
Eligibility for Application
It is important to note that ESTA does not function as a visa i.e. it does not hold the same legal requirements. Travelers with a valid visa are eligible to travel in the country for the purpose of the visa like tourist visa. Those using a valid visa may not be required to apply for the ESTA. An approved ESTA cannot guarantee entry into the country in case a valid visa fails. Since ESTA came into effect in 2009, whether or not VWP applicants have ESTA authorization, they are expected to complete a blue Customs declaration. The ESTA eliminated the need for the need of green I-94W card that was initially used by VWP applicants.
An approved ESTA can only be valid for two years or until the visa expires. This means that a traveler is eligible to travel in the country in case either the visa or ESTA expires in the course the two years, but not both. ESTA only allows a maximum stay of ninety days at a time. In addition, the ESTA holder is advised to have a reasonable amount of time between visits, although it is not a requirement.
A new ESTA authorization may be required in case a new passport is issued or the holder changes their names. It is worthy to note that ESTA does not currently provide the choice for gender X and urges applicants to indicate the gender they feel most comfortable with. However, a new authorization may be required in case of gender change. Change of citizenship of the country indicated in the initial application may also require fresh authorization.
ESTA holders are not permitted to work or study in the country. They are only required to either be tourists, visiting relatives or attending business functions. Holders are also required to be of sound mind and good health without criminal convictions.
Make sure to check the additional border control regulations, too. Youtube is a good source, as is Google.