People who want to visit the US need some kind of travel authorization. There is a US Visa program for most nationalities worldwide, a lengthy process that requires a visit to the US embassy and an interview. However, travellers from countries in Visa Waiver Program can apply for ESTA and obtain visiting permits quickly and without too much annoyance.
Currently, there are 39 countries in VWP, and this number changes over the years as the US administration reaches agreements with other countries. ESTA application makes you eligible for coming into the United States of America, but the rules can change. Also, Custom and Border Protection have the authority to decline entry, but let's assume you can come into the US with ESTA. The global health crisis influenced immigration policies, and ESTA also had specific changes, with more potential differences emerging. We will go through what has changed for 2021, but let's first look at the process of getting ESTA.
Electronic System for Travel Authorization
Here are the most important things to know about ESTA. Regardless of the changes COVID-19 imposed on US travel and immigration policies, the ESTA application process remained unchanged. If you're travelling by plane or sea to the US from 39 countries in Visa Waiver Program, you can get ESTA. The application process is online, and you will need to fill in personal information. Preferably, you should have a point of contact person in the US. If you don't have it, you can leave that field empty, but you should give the address of the first accommodation in that case. Since 2020, you must provide social media account information. Do not hide this information if you used Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social media in the last five years. Another mandatory piece of information you should provide to Custom and Border Protection is your emergency contact. It could be a person in the US or back in your home country. Also, ESTA is not the same as Visa that you can get to live in the US; see the difference between ESTA and VISA before applying.
If you're travelling with the family, you can fill out their application questionnaire. However, all applicants must pay a $78 fee, including children. American administration usually needs around three days to process the application. It could be over sooner, but there are no guarantees. For people from VWP countries that need immediate travel, this could be a problem. All ESTA applicants must have a valid electronic passport with at least six months validity after the planned return date.
The applicants who don't provide a point of contact person, accommodation, and other preferable information have a greater chance of being rejected.
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Top reasons to reject ESTA
You can still get the ESTA approval, even if you don't provide a point of contact or accommodation information, although it would help. There are, however, a couple of reasons the American administration will turn down your application.
There are numerous questions on the application, and any "Yes" answer might pose a red flag. As a result, the suspicious persons, or any that could look at as a threat, might be turned down. To make sure you're not in jeopardy, double-check all your answers. Here are some of the reasons ESTA application gets rejected:
- Applicants that write yes to one of nine questions in the questionnaire
- Former applicants for Visa or ESTA that got rejected
- Applicants with a criminal record and convicted felons
- People who took advantage of previous visits and overstayed in the US
- Applicants who worked in the US without the proper Visa
- People who rejected entry to the country for various reasons
- Deported from the US in previous visits
Some of the issues like overstaying will get you a permanent ESTA ban, but you could still apply for US Visa, and if you make another minor issue like selecting "Yes" by mistake doesn't mean you can't re-apply.
There is a chance for ESTA to be approved earlier than the 72 hours deadline. So you can check ESTA status to see whether you can get on the plane. All applicants get a unique number, and if you plan on checking the ESTA status, you must know the personal information, unique applicant number, and credentials.
How long is ESTA valid? Once American officials approve the ESTA, you have two years to take advantage of travel authorization. After that, travellers can come multiple times and can be in the US for 90 days in one visit.
If everything is the same about applications, what are ESTA updates for 2021?
Changes to ESTA for 2021
There were no changes in the application process for ESTA, but some talk about changing the status of some countries. For example, Malaysia is one of the countries negotiating with the US about Visa Waiver Program membership. However, the agreement hasn't been reached yet. Therefore, travellers from Malaysia still need to apply for Visa until things change.
The opposite situation to Malaysian was in Greece. The southern European country was in jeopardy of falling out of the pool of ESTA countries. However, the talks with the American government and Greek nationalities can still travel to the US with an ESTA permit.
ESTA program still has the same countries and the same application process. However, most changes to the ESTA came because of the global health crisis. As a result, the American administration imposed several restrictions to keep the number of COVID cases at manageable levels.
US Visa program has been hit much harder than the ESTA. While US Visa applications are issued, the process is minimal. All Visa applicants at some point must visit the US embassy for the interview. You must wait for up to 180 days for your appointment, and now these meetings are even more limited due to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
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The United States of America has the most confirmed coronavirus cases globally, with numbers reaching over 33 million, with more than 600,000 people died. In 2020 American administration imposed a travel ban, and the new administration reinforces this. So, at the same time, you can apply and get the ESTA permit and be subjected to a travel ban.
Currently, CDC (Center for Disease Control) and the government has travel bans for travellers from EU Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, Brazil, South Africa, China, and Iran. In these countries, people who were in these countries 14 days before the travel to the US can't enter the country. This effectively means you can't fly from Europe with ESTA to the US. There are numerous exceptions, but you must follow the CDC notifications if you want to travel as a tourist.
Since ESTA has a two-year validity period, the travel authorization is still being issued. Therefore, the best thing to do if you're unsure whether you can indeed enter the US is to contact the airline or your local US embassy.
What could change with ESTA?
As the CDC could update its travel ban requirements at any moment, given the global health situation changes, the American administration could also impose changes to the ESTA application process. One of the things that haven't changed since the introduction of the Visa Waiver Program is the fee. We could see the current $78 fee go up. If that does happen, it would hardly be the most significant issue you can have with ESTA. Travel to the US is costly, and the ESTA fee is not by any measure among the highest expenditures.
It will be a much bigger issue if America changes how long is ESTA valid. That would change the whole perspective about the careful planning of the visit. One of the most extraordinary things about tourist visits is excellent American road trips. If the American government changes the allowed period of stay in the future, which now stands at 90 days in one go, you will have to adjust planning road trips and other lengthier visits.
Another possible ESTA change could be linked to the BREXIT process. UK left the EU, and we will have to see how that affects their passport's value. Bear in mind, the BREXIT is an incredibly lengthy process that will not finish soon, and for 2021 no real changes for UK citizens will arrive regarding the ESTA application.
How do you apply for ESTA?
Applicants must visit the ESTA page, fill out the application and pay a fee.
How long is ESTA valid?
Applicants with an ESTA travel permit can visit the US within two years and stay a maximum of 90 days in one stay.
How long is US Visa valid?
Most Visas are issued for a period of 10 years. However, you can get Visa that is valid for between one month and ten years.
What do you need to know about ESTA updates for 2021?
ESTA application process did not change in 2021. Malaysia was supposed to enter Visa Waiver Program, but this process was prolonged. Greece successfully negotiated with the US government and stayed in the VWP.
What did change?
While ESTA and Visa application processes are still happening, the American administration imposed travel bans to many countries (Schengen area, UK, Brazil, China, Iran….). People who stayed in these countries in the last 14 days before coming to America can't enter the nation currently. Travellers must follow official notifications from CDC and the American government.
Visa Waiver Program is the most convenient way to travel to the US. You can get ESTA rather quickly, within three days. It is valid for 24 months, and you can stay 90 days in one visit in the US. The program is subject to change from time to time. The were no significant changes in 2021. There were no changes to the number of countries in the program, and the application process is still going on with the exact requirements and the fee. Since 2020, however, the American government and the CDC have imposed travel restrictions and banned many countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, you should consult the government and CDC official pages before you plan your US visit.