International travelers coming to America from trusted countries will no longer have to deal with paper arrival and departure forms by the end of the summer, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced today.
Previously under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), qualified international travelers from 36 nations could travel to the United States without a visa for trips 90 days or less as long as they filled out a I-94W form and handed it over to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents upon their arrival in the United States.
Now that process is going completely electronic.
"This step to eliminate the paper I-94W leverages the latest technology to further bolster security, increase convenience for visitors and better protect privacy," Napolitano said in a statement.
Beginning in June, CBP, a DHS partner agency, will begin to roll out an automated, electronic system at airports across the United States.
Since January 2009, DHS has mandated travelers from VWP countries receive clearance from the CBP's online Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) system before arrival in the United States as well as fill out the I-94W form. The idea was to begin the transition from the paper system to the electronic system, and now the ESTA is about ready to take over full time. By the end of the summer, the annoying green form will be no more.
Under the ESTA system, travelers log on to its Web site, submit their personal and travel information, and answer a list of questions related to public health and criminal activity that could make the traveler inadmissible. If travelers answer "yes" to any of these questions they will have to apply and receive a visa to travel to the United States. If travelers answer "no" to these questions, their information is then checked against law enforcement databases and a travel decision is generated within seconds.
Then when travelers check in for a flight, the airlines ping the ESTA database to check if they have received a green light to travel to the United States. If they have, they can board the plane. If they have not, travelers cannot board; although an ESTA decision occurs fast enough that travelers with an Internet connection could log on to the Web site at the airport and receive immediate authorization, said CBP spokeswoman Joanne Ferreira.
And just because travelers have been authorized to travel to the United States, doesn't guarantee them entry.
"Upon arrival to the United States, you will be inspected by a [CBP] officer at a port of entry who may determine that you are inadmissible under the Visa Waiver Program or for any reason under United States law," the ESTA's online application disclaimer notes.
♦ Photo of I-94W Form by the U.S. Consulate/Amsterdam