The American Immigration Services, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, has announced that the ESTA requirements will continue to expand. As of 1 October 2022, travellers entering the USA by land will also need to apply for an ESTA.
ESTA for arrivals by air or by sea
The ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) is a travel authorisation that allows travellers to travel to the United States without a visa. However, the ESTA is not yet available to everyone. At present, 40 countries are part of the so-called Visa Waiver Program, including the UK and Ireland. Travellers with the nationality of one of these countries can apply for an ESTA instead of a visa. An ESTA is required for travellers entering the US by air or by sea. Those who do not have an approved ESTA will not be allowed to board planes or (cruise)ships bound for the USA, even if the USA is just a stopover.
However, different rules yet apply to travellers entering the USA through its national borders. Instead of an ESTA, they have to complete the so-called I-94 form. This form is intended to collect the personal data of the traveller. Similar to the ESTA form, the I-94 form can be completed online in advance, but unlike the ESTA, the I-94 form can also be completed at the border. The I-94 form, however, is not a visa.
ESTA will replace I-94 form
As of 1 October 2022, the ESTA will replace the paper form I-94 that can be completed at the border. Travellers who are part of the Visa Waiver Program are required to apply for an ESTA before arriving at the border. Should it become apparent at the border that a traveller does not have a valid ESTA, he or she will have to return to Mexico or Canada to apply for one there. Travellers that are not part of the Visa Waiver Program, such as travellers with a Mexican nationality, must be in possession of a visa or other valid travel authorisation. The new rules do not apply to travellers with Canadian citizenship, as they may already travel to the US without a visa or an ESTA.
The new rules are intended to make the ESTA requirements more cohesive. At the moment, different rules apply for arrivals by air, sea or land, which causes a lot of confusion for travellers. The new ESTA requirements will also significantly reduce congestion at the national borders, as it will no longer be possible to complete the paper form I-94 upon arrival.
Other ESTA requirements remain unchanged
The announcement by the U.S. government indicates that as of October 2022, the ESTA requirements shall be the same for all travellers that are part of the Visa Waiver Program, regardless of how they enter the USA. An ESTA is valid for two years and allows a maximum stay of 90 days in the USA. Although an ESTA is usually granted within a few hours, it is recommended that you apply as early as possible. Delays are always a possibility and without a valid ESTA you will not be able to enter the USA.