ESTA USA or the Electronic System for Travel Authorisations or is an application platform operated by United States government. The platform handles applications from travellers seeking entry into the U.S under the VWP or Visa Waiver Program. ESTA USA was initiated in 2009 and anyone travelling to the U.S under the VWP is required to get authorisation from the ESTA platform. Only citizens from VWP member countries can apply to travel to the U.S through the ESTA platform. Citizens from non-eligible countries must obtain valid U.S Visas to be accepted into the United States.
Travellers from eligible countries must submit their personal information in their applications for pre-screening before getting on a ship or plane destined for the U.S. Holders of valid ESTA authorisations are allowed entry into the United States upon arrival at an airport, border point or sea terminal. The ESTA platform was the brainchild of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS enrolled the platform with the aim of pre-screening all travellers coming to the U.S under the Visa Waiver Program. The DHS wanted to have a platform that could allow screening of eligible persons before they departed their countries of origin.
In effect, the main objective of the ESTA USA platform is to perform efficient, convenient and timely pre-screening of VWP travellers seeking entry into the United States. Citizens from eligible countries are advised to seek ESTA USA authorisation at least 72 hours before boarding plane or ship to the U.S. It is worthwhile to note that the ESTA travel Authorisation is not a Visa or Entry-permit to the U.S. It is simply an approval or ‘go-ahead’ to travel to the U.S under VWP.
The Visa Waiver Program was started by the U.S government with the aim of allowing citizens from specific countries to gain entry and stay in the U.S for a period that does not exceed 90 days without having to secure a U.S Visa. Citizens from eligible countries who may be travelling for business or tourism purposes do not have to spend a lot of time and effort getting a U.S Visa every time they travel to the U.S. The Visa Waiver Program therefore brings about a lot of convenience especially for people who travel often and on short-notice.
All ESTA travel authorisations are obtained through the official ESTA online application platform. The application process involves submission of some personal and biographic information. An applicant is also required to answer a series of VWP eligibility questions in order to successfully complete the application.