June 19, 2008
By Jena Baker McNeill
On June 3, 2008, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) took
the next step toward mandatory implementation of the Electronic
System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). By streamlining the current
entry-screening process, ESTA enhances security screening at ports
of entry into the United States while reducing inconvenience to
Currently, travelers from visa-waiver countries-countries whose
travelers are permitted to enter the U.S. without a traditional
visa-are required to fill out a paper form and undergo screening
upon entering U.S. soil. ESTA, however, allows for pre-screening of
travelers through an online application, thereby expediting the
entry of travelers from visa-waiver countries into the U.S.
Subsequently, security screeners will be able to focus on "high
risk" travelers who may represent security threats. Yet, in order
to preserve these new security measures, DHS must act quickly to
resolve roadblocks preventing full ESTA participation.
Eliminates Hassles and Requires Minimal Personal
ESTA increases convenience for the legitimate traveler by
eliminating the more burdensome aspects of the entry-point
screening process, thereby ensuring that travelers will not arrive
in the U.S. only to be denied entry. After approval online,
travelers are not required to reapply for two years; convenient
travel is available with the click of a mouse.
Furthermore, ESTA compels travelers to submit only the same
information currently required on the paper (I-94) form-information
commonly requested of U.S. travelers-soliciting answers that a
legitimate traveler would have no qualms about revealing, such as
information involving communicable disease and illegal
Fostering Diplomatic Ties
The implementation of ETSA is a requirement for adding new
countries to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). VWP is vital for
enhancing U.S. public diplomacy. Bilateral agreements formed
between the U.S. and visa-waiver countries foster diplomatic
relationships by initiating security and cooperation dialogue
between nations. The Bulgarian Prime Minister reiterated this point
when he called designation of Bulgaria as a future visa-waiver
country "a clear sign of trust" by the United States.
Increasing Protection of the Homeland
Pre-screening for security risks improves authorities' ability
to prevent high-security risk individuals from entering the U.S.
Rather than risking a bureaucratic snafu at a domestic
point-of-entry, ESTA's improvements to the current pre-screening
process provide U.S. inspectors with an opportunity to identify
potentially dangerous travelers before they arrive on U.S.
Remove Roadblocks to ESTA Participation
In order to secure full ESTA participation, DHS must eliminate
or reform several of the program's cumbersome and less effective
features. A more user-friendly structure would:
Conclusion: Security and Efficiency
ESTA is a model for domestic entry-screening initiatives.
Through a combination of expediency and efficiency, ESTA satisfies
two seemingly disparate goals: securing the homeland and
facilitating efficient travel into the United States. Furthermore,
ESTA's benefits extend beyond mere ease and convenience of travel
for qualified individuals; the program also provides substantial
economic, diplomatic, and security benefits to the United
Jena Baker McNeill is a Policy Analyst for Homeland Security
in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies,
a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for
International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.
On June 3, 2008, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) took thenext step toward mandatory implementation of the Electronic Systemfor Travel Authorization (ESTA). By streamlining the currententry-screening process, ESTA enhances security screening at portsof entry into the United States while reducing inconvenience toAmerica's guests.
Jena Baker McNeill
Senior Policy Analyst, Homeland Security
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