ESTA (Electronic System fro Travel Authorisation) was introduced by the United States as an alternative to applying for a Visa. ESTA applies is available to citizens of various countries, the United Kingdom included, and for a $14 fee allows citizens of the United Kingdom and other permitted countries to apply online for their travel authorisation (essentially a visa waiver). Apart form generating income for the United States it also allows them to vet all travellers intending to visit the country, which in these days of heightened security is understandable. However, there can be a downside for other law-abiding citizens.
Travellers who apply online for an ESTA are mostly given an authorisation almost immediately if the US immigration department is happy with the answers provided, but there are exceptions. One is for people who have a criminal record and the other is for travellers who in the past have had a passport reported lost or stolen.
In Friday’s Daily Telegraph, David Shepherd-Cross described a situation which occurred 40 years ago. He was travelling through Afghanistan when his passport was stolen during a backpacking holiday across Asia. He was issued with a new passport by the UK Embassy in Kabul and continued his travels. He later discovered his passport was used by a member of Black September terrorist group who was arrested in Paris after a call from Wiltshire Police.
In the years following, Mr Shepherd-Cross travelled to the US without hindrance until the introduction of ESTA. He is now meant to be travelling to Maine with his family, but his ESTA was refused and he then had to make a an appointment at the US Embassy in London and pay a fee of $160 (non-refundable). He now faces an agonising wait to see if he will receive authorisation in time to join his family on their holiday to Maine.
The story highlights the potential pitfalls of travelling to the US and obtaining an ESTA.