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Immigration News: Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) Required for Visa Waiver Program Travel Beginning January 12, 2009

November 19, 2008

By The Immigration Practice Group

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced that, beginning January 12, 2009, all nationals and citizens of Visa Waiver Program countries will be required to obtain a travel authorization online through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to traveling to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. ESTA is a free web-based system administered by DHS that determines the preliminary eligibility of visitors to travel under the Visa Waiver program prior to their boarding a carrier to the U.S. Eligible visitors seeking to travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program may apply for travel authorization at

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An approved ESTA application will generally be valid for a period of two years and will allow multiple visits to the U.S. within that period without applying for another ESTA. A new ESTA authorization is required if (1) the traveler is issued a new passport; (2) the traveler changes his or her name; (3) the traveler changes his or her gender; (4) the traveler's country of citizenship changes; or (5) the circumstances underlying the traveler's previous responses to any of the ESTA application questions requiring a "yes" or "no" response have changed.

Seven Countries Added To List of Countries Authorized to Participate in Visa Waiver Program

Effective November 17, 2008, seven additional nations have been added to the list of countries authorized to participate in the Visa Waiver program. Citizens of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and South Korea are now able to travel to the United States under the terms of the VWP. The countries that are on track to be included in the VWP in the future are Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Poland, and Romania. (See Immigration News dated October 23, 2008 for additional details)