Travelers from the 27 countries that have been granted visa-free entry to the United States will have to answer an online questionnaire before entering the country due to a pilot program set to start Friday.
The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), according to Agence France Presse:
... will oblige people from nations, including 15 European Union states, Japan and Australia, to supply details, preferably three days prior to travel, which they usually fill out on flight cards before arrival at U.S. airports.
They will be asked about communicable diseases or mental and physical disorders, drug abuse, whether they have been arrested for certain crimes or involved in spying, terrorist activities or genocide.
The online questionnaire replaces the paper forms given out to foreign travelers in-flight before they arrive in the United States. Officials say the online version allows for almost instantaneous authorization for an individual traveler to enter the country. Once authorization has been granted, the permit lasts for two years.
Responding to criticisms of the program run in the Irish Independent, Sheila Paskman of the U.S. Embassy in Ireland, said ESTA is "actually easier than the current system."
European Union officials, however, are not happy about the program. They believe the program may act as a de facto visa.
The European Commission, the executive body of the EU, will examine the ESTA program after it is published to determine whether it acts as a visa, said Michele Cercone, the spokesman for justice and security issues at the commission.
"The ESTA is not a visa," Jackie Bednarz, attaché for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said at a news briefing Monday and quoted by the International Herald Tribune. "It's very different, in our minds."
EU officials are also upset that the U.S. only grants visa-free entry to 15 out of the 27 EU states. They say if visa requirements for the rest of EU member countries are not waived, the European Commission will move to require that U.S. diplomats receive visas before entering a member country.
AFP reports that travelers from the following countries will need to comply with the ESTA: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.