United States Customs and Border Protection says it is looking into reports that Caymanians travelling on a United Kingdom passport through Miami and with valid visa waivers have been told they need visas.
In the case of Caymanian Sandra Catron, she was told she was travelling ‘too much’ and ‘abusing the system’ as a frequent visitor to the United States.
“They told me that the visa waiver programme was not for people from the islands, such as myself, but for Europeans who do not travel to the US as often and that I was abusing the system,” she said.
“The official said he was going to put a note in the system that I was going to get a regular visitor’s visa and should either go to Jamaica and the Bahamas to get that. It is very bizarre. If there has been a shift in policy then people should be advised.”
However, Chuck Prichard, public affairs officer at the United States Customs and Border Protection, told the Compass that frequency of travel should not be an issue under the authorisation agreement, which the United Kingdom is signed up to.
“There is no specific regulation against that; there are specific rules that you cannot stay more than 90 days, but frequency of travel is a new one on me,” he said. “If that was put out [by officers] then that would need to be revisited.
“I will pass this along to the director of field operations for Customs and Border Protection and make them aware of it,” Mr. Prichard said. “We are constantly training all our officers on proper procedures and it may be a simple matter of miscommunication. But if you follow all the rules, frequency of travel really should not be an issue.”
Mr. Prichard did say that there may be circumstances under which a visa might be required.
“Under the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation programme the approval does not take the place of an actual visa; it is within the purview of a Customs and Border Protection officer if they determine, based upon the facts they see, that the person needs to apply for a visa,” he said. “Just because you have an ESTA it does not give you carte blanche to come and go for two years.
“There can be a variety of things; status change, passport expired, change of name,” Mr. Prichard said.
“Just because you have ESTA approval does not necessarily mean you can come and go without possible other circumstances. If you get a new passport or the traveller changes name, country of citizenship or gender [then a new ESTA will be needed.]”
An ESTA may only be used with the passport under which the permit was issued, he added, so it would not be possible to apply under a United Kingdom passport and then try and use a Cayman Islands passport for travel, for example.
John Douglas, who possesses a valid ESTA, told the Compass that he was in transit to Canada through Miami but he had been erroneously flagged up as an overstayer in the United States system, leading back to 1974.
“I have never overstayed in the United States – so I had to write to Virginia and get them to take this off my record and they told me in Miami to go to Jamaica and get a visa then I would have no problems, which is what I did,” he said.
“All I wanted was two hours to get on the next plane and get out of there; I only wanted to go to Canada but I missed my plane [because of this].”
There’s no limit
Under the terms of the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation, “Each approved ESTA application generally is valid for two years and allows for multiple visits to the United States within that period without having to apply for another ESTA approval.”
An official at Miami International Airport Customs and Border Control, who said he could not be named for security reasons, also confirmed that there was no limit on the amount of visits an individual could make under the visa waiver programme.
“That is not an issue once you have been approved for travel – you can come as many times as you want per year. You cannot live here and come for 90 days, then 90 days, then 90 days – that would be abusing the system.
“But if you have an approved ESTA you can come as many times as you like.”