Today is the first day of implementation for the Department of Homeland Security’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) program. ESTA allows travelers visiting the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to enter the U.S. without a visa and stay for up to 90 days. VWP countries include most of Western Europe, New Zealand, Japan and Australia. This summer, Heritage analyst Jena McNeill wrote on ETSA:
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. soil.
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 States.