The American government has announced changes to its COVID-19 policy due to the Omicron COVID-19 variant. This also affects people who want to travel to America with an ESTA.
The Omicron variant is now also present in America
Infections with the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus have also been reported in America. These infections have been notified in New York, California and Colorado. As far as is known, the infected persons had not travelled recently. Because of the uncertainties surrounding this new variant, the US government has decided to take some precautionary measures. President Joe Biden made it clear that the new plans will not lead to lockdowns. The "vaccine mandate", which causes great polarization in the country, will not be expanded either.
Most of the new measures relate to domestic coronavirus policies. For example, the US government wants to provide millions of free self-tests to the population. Mouth masks will remain mandatory on planes, buses and trains. The government also wants to greatly increase the number of booster shots by means of a new campaign. Currently, 40 million Americans have had a booster shot, but more than 100 million are eligible for the extra shot.
Measures for travellers to America
Travellers from abroad who want to travel to America with an ESTA,must have a negative COVID-19 test result no more than one day before departure, even if they are fully vaccinated. Previously, this was a maximum of 72 hours, but due to the threat of the Omicron variant, the White House has decided to shorten this period to one day. This is counted in days and not hours, which means that it does not matter what time the test is taken. As long as the negative test result is received one day before departure, it is valid for travelling to America.
The new measure for passengers travelling to America is a lot milder than expected. Before the announcement, sources close to the White House mentioned a possible mandatory quarantine for incoming travellers due to the Omicron variant. However, the measures for a number of African countries are much stricter: travellers from eight countries in Southern Africa are temporarily banned from entering America. This includes South Africa, which was the first country to report cases of infection with the Omicron variant. The South African government is outraged by the American travel ban. South Africa sees it as a punishment for discovering the Omicron variant, while it has since become clear that the virus was already present in other countries (such as the US itself).
ESTA rules remain the same
The American government has not announced any changes to its visa policy. Since 8 November, travellers from the EU and the United Kingdom can travel to America again with an ESTA. Unlike countries like Canada or Australia, America does not have an additional permit or digital portal that travellers have to take into account. As long as they comply with the COVID-19 requirements, an ESTA is enough to travel to the United States.
However, the conditions of the ESTA must also be taken into account. In some cases it is not possible to apply for an ESTA. For example, it is only possible to apply for an ESTA if you are a national of one of the countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program. This includes both the United Kingdom and Ireland. Travellers who are unable to apply for an ESTA will need to apply for a visa through their consulate.