News: Stricter entry rules could affect Britons visiting America
Last-minute travellers beware: the US has changed its visa application rules meaning real-time ESTA approvals are no longer available.
Applications for ETSA permits, which allow Britons to travel to the US, have traditionally been approved online in real time, resulting in many travellers frantically filling out ESTA forms on their phones at airport check-in desks.
However, new restrictions announced by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) means holidaymakers must now apply for an ESTA three days before their flight.
“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,” reads a statement on the DHS website.
The new restrictions could impact holidaymakers seeking last-minute deals and business travellers, who are often required to jet off at a moment’s notice. Disorganised travellers will also likely fall foul of the changes.
The news comes at the end of a disappointing year for the US tourist industry, which has reportedly seen visitor numbers fall. Figures released by the US National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO) in March suggested international arrivals were down by as much as five per cent.
By contrast, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) claims global international tourist arrivals increased by seven per cent in 2017. The NTTO has since questioned its own statistics and suspended data releases due to “technical issues”.
The downward trend in arrivals – dubbed the “Trump Slump” – has been blamed on the US President’s controversial policies, including a ban on citizens from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen from entering the US.
Criticised for unfairly targeting Muslim people, the ban was brought into sharp focus this week when a Yemeni mother was denied entry to the US to visit her dying son. Shaima Swileh, who currently lives in Egypt, has since been granted a waiver.
The US tourist board denies Trump is having a negative impact on tourism.
“What we have found and this is true of travel all over the world is that it really transcends politics, it transcends the issues of the day,” said Tom Garzilli, chief marketing officer for Brand USA.
“People are travelling, people want to have great experiences. We know that we offer these things and our job is to get up and remind, educate and inspire.”
A parent travelling to any country who has a different surname to their child should expect to be questioned by border staff to establish their relationship to the youngster.
Travellers to the US must apply for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), at a cost of $4, which gives you permission to visit. You cannot board a flight without it.
Do not use any unofficial sites which claim to do the work for you.
The US also requires anyone who has visited Libya, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen since March 2011 to apply for a full tourist visa. It currently costs $160 and requires applicants to complete an online form and attend an interview at the US Embassy in London.
An Israeli stamp in your passport has long been known to cause problems visiting a number of Muslim countries, such as Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen. Israeli authorities, however, typically do not stamp passports but instead give travellers arriving by air a stamped entry and exit card.
Britons can visit most countries without applying for a visa, but not China, Iran, Cuba, Mongolia and Nigeria (among others). Always check the Foreign Office website as soon as you book your trip.
Dozens of countries around the world require arriving travellers to have at least six months left to run on their passports. They include Brazil, Turkey, China, Russia, St Lucia and Thailand (see table above for more).
Many more, such as Belarus, may refuse entry unless you have at least three months of validity beyond your arrival date. For others, like New Zealand and South Africa, one month is necessary.
Every country, even those in the EU, require your passport to be valid for the duration of your trip.
Some countries may also turn travellers away if they do not have any blank pages in their passport. The Foreign Office advises travellers without at least two blank pages to renew their document.
By Gavin Haines