America Tightens Entry Rules

America tightens entry rules

Chris Haslam
From The Sunday Times
February 17, 2008

The US government is seeking to impose the strictest-ever security measures for transatlantic travellers. Under the scheme, armed guards of the US Federal Air Marshal Service would travel undercover on all transatlantic flights not just those operated by US-based airlines and passengers wishing to travel to the USA would face a minimum four-day wait for permission to fly, under strict new screening rules.

If Britain refuses to bow to these demands, the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) which allows citizens in 27 countries, including the UK, to travel to the United States for tourism or business (with some exceptions), for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa could be abolished.

Under the new rules, passengers would need to obtain an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) before they could buy a plane ticket. Homeland Securitys Russ Knocke says: Travellers will go to a website and submit personal data. I cant say what that data will be at present, but if everything checks out, youll get an ETA number, which will be valid for up to two years. As it would take at least four days to receive that number, short-notice trips such as urgent business meetings, flights of fancy and emergency travel would no longer be possible unless you were already registered.

So, would submitting to the process in effect, an electronic visa application mean wed no longer face interrogation when we touched down? Er, no, Knocke says. Youll line up just as you do now. All the ETA means is that well know more about you by the time you arrive, but theres nothing stopping a bad guy entering false information and receiving an ETA. Thats why we will still need to check people as they arrive in the United States.

The real reason for this bureaucratic intrusion is political, Knocke admits.

There are a lot of folk in Congress who want the VWP abolished. This is one way we can persuade them weve made it more secure.

American tourism bodies claim all is well. Long queues at immigration, surly and suspicious officials, tricky scanning procedures and British travellers frightened off are all things of the past, says the Visit USA association, a confederation of tour operators, airlines and hotel groups. It is high time this urban myth was dispelled and a true picture allowed to emerge of how things really are for the vast majority of British visitors today.

Things of the past? Please e-mail us your US immigration experiences, good or bad, to


When does the Electronic Travel Authorisation start? Before the end of the year, according to the Department of Homeland Security. A heavy awareness campaign is promised.

Do I qualify for the Visa Waiver Program? Most British citizens visiting the USA for stays of less than 90 days can travel under the VWP. All you need is a machine-readable passport with not less than six months validity and a clean criminal record.

How do I know if my passport is machine-readable? Look at the personal information page. If there are two lines of letters, numbers and chevrons printed across the long edge, its machine-readable.

Can I still get in if I once got a speeding ticket? Travellers with minor traffic offences that did not result in an arrest can travel under the VWP visa-free, provided they are otherwise qualified.


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