USA ESTA visa-waiver applications: Warning for travellers after instant approvals dropped

Australian travellers to the US could find themselves denied entry to the country after the Department of Homeland Security stopped issuing immediate approvals for the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) visa-waiver.

The ESTA allows citizens of many countries, including Australia, to enter the US without requiring a visa.

Previously applicants who met all criteria would receive approval immediately, but will now need to apply three days in advance or face being denied boarding their flight.

A statement on the US Customs and Border Protection ESTA application site reads:

"REMINDER: Apply for ESTA no later than 72 hours before departing for the United States. Real-time approvals will no longer be available and arriving at the airport without a previously approved ESTA will likely result in being denied boarding."

Passengers who forgot to apply for an ESTA could previously do so at the airport before boarding their flight and receive instant approval, provided they qualified (some travellers – such as those with dual citizenship – usually required a longer approval period).

The Australian government's travel advice website Smartraveller currently advises travellers to apply "as soon as you know you'll be travelling to the US".

The ESTA allows Australians to enter the US for less than 90 days and is valid for two years. There is a $US14 processing fee that must be paid at the time of application.

Travellers who have previously been denied entry to the US cannot apply for the ESTA, nor can anyone who has travelled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen, regardless of their citizenship.

Australian visitor numbers to the US have doubled over the past 10 years, with more than 1 million trips in 2017, according to Australia Bureau of Statistics numbers. The number of Australians continued to grow in 2017, despite talk of a "Trump slump" in tourism. In 2018, numbers have dropped slightly, though the fall of the Australian dollar may have been the main factor.

See also: How a mistake got me banned from the US for life

See also: Not authorised - How I lost my right to visa-free entry into the US