Cayman Islands residents who are citizens of Visa Waiver Programme countries will have an extra thing to do before they leave for a trip to the United States from next January.
The US Government has unveiled new rules for citizens of the 27 countries listed under its VWP to register online with the US government three days in advance of travel for business or pleasure trips.
The new rules – designed to strengthen security – come into force on 12 January. The new system is called the Electronic System for Travel Authorization.
VWP countries include most of Western Europe, along with Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Japan and Singapore.
And once a traveller has registered and been accepted under the new rules for the first time, it will be valid for two years.
Gail Duquesnay of Adventure Travel and former US Consular Agent in the Cayman Islands, said she has had lots of calls on the newly announced pre-travel requirement. ‘I know that people on the Visa Waiver won’t be happy, but if they have to do it, they have to do it,’ she said.
Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson said he did not know as yet how the new rule would affect Caymanians
The US Consular Representative’s Office in Cayman is currently closed to 18 June so there was no-one available for comment there on how the new rule would affect Caymanians.
Ms Duquesnay noted that those who do not have easy access to a computer may have a problem with the new rule.
Online check-in is now becoming common with airlines and the pre-travel authorisation process is really a similar thing, only it is done three days in advance, she said.
Ms Duquesnay said she personally would advise those in the Visa Waiver Programme to go ahead and apply for a visa to visit the US.
This is because of a number of reasons: if the US cancels the VWP at any time it would leave loads of people trying to get a visa all at once; also British (or those on VWP) passport holders must travel on a commercial airline in order to benefit from the VWP and the same applies for a Caymanian with a British passport. This means that a visa would be needed in order to be air ambulanced into the US or to take a charter plane into the US in the case of a hurricane.
Mr. Manderson confirmed that holders of a Caymanian passport may travel on a non-commercial flight with a waiver.
Ms Duquesnay said that although it is an ordeal to have to go to the US embassy in person to apply for a visa, it would be worth it. She added that she had never seen anyone who qualifies for the VWP, who had applied for the visa, have it turned down. The nearest US embassies are in Jamaica and The Bahamas.
From 1 August, 2008, the US Department of Homeland Security will begin to accept pre-travel applications for electronic travel authorisation.
Citizens of VWP countries now complete a written I-94W form providing basic biographical, travel, and eligibility information while en-route to the U.S. With ESTA, VWP travellers will provide this information online prior to departure for the U.S.
Once the new requirement is enforced in January there could be some teething problems, Ms Duquesnay said; for example, if someone has forgotten to pre-register online and arrive at the airport. ‘I don’t know how strict they would be on this,’ she said.
Pre-registering from August, in order to be ready for January, would be advisable, she said.
‘It’s a good idea, so that when you’re getting ready to travel you’re not running around with 1,000 things on your mind and you’re covered for a hurricane.’
Ms Duquesnay said she does not think the new rule will affect travel agents or hinder people travelling, but will simply put a little more responsibility on the passengers.
Explaining the reasoning behind the ESTA, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said, ‘Rather than relying on paper-based procedures, this system will leverage 21st century electronic means to obtain basic information about who is travelling to the US without a visa.
‘Getting this information in advance enables our frontline personnel to determine whether a visa-free traveller presents a threat, before boarding an aircraft or arriving on our shores. It is a relatively simple and effective way to strengthen our security, and that of international travellers, while helping to preserve an important programme for key allies.’
To facilitate the authorisation process, DHS recommends that ESTA applications be submitted as soon as an applicant begins planning U.S.-bound travel, and not less than 72 hours prior to travel.
On 1 August, 2008, the department will begin to accept voluntary applications through the ESTA Web site at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov.