The I-94 Form Is Being Phased Out
For the past 7 years, visitors from one of the VWP (Visa Waiver Program) countries who wanted to enter the United States at a land border crossing had to fill out a paper I-94 form and pay the appropriate fee. From May 2, 2022, this requirement will be scrapped and replaced by the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) that has until now only applied to non-citizens who entered the U.S. by air or sea.
Although the ultimate decision on whether a visitor is allowed into the U.S. or not rests with CBP (Customs and Border Control), ESTA offers a type of ‘pre-approval’. The changes basically involve that this system is now expanded to also cover land crossings. The aim is to improve national security via better traveler screening, speed up the entry process, and produce a more modern and consistent VWP admission policy at land border crossings. The new system will also generate cost and time savings for VWP travelers and the CBP.
Apart from one major difference, the ESTA regulations for land borders will now be the same as they have already been for sea and air borders. While travelers from VWP countries that arrive by sea or air have to obtain an approved ESTA and give the necessary info to their sea or air carriers before they are allowed to board the ship or plane, visitors who arrive by land (typically in private vehicles) will only have to get ESTA approval immediately before they present themselves to the Canadian Border Patrol.
What Is The Visa Waiver Program?
The VWP or Visa Waiver Program makes it possible for qualified citizens of 40 countries to visit the U.S. for tourism- or business-related purposes and remain in the country without a visa for as long as 90 days. Travelers who enter the U.S. under the VWP program are typically not able to change their status or extend their visit after they have arrived in the country. Those who stay in the U.S. longer than the maximum period will forfeit the right to travel under the VWP and could also expose themselves to other penalties under U.S. legislation.
The Importance Of Applying Early
In case a traveler from a VWP country arrives at a United States land border crossing without being in possession of a valid travel authorization but wishes to apply for one, he or she will be allowed to withdraw their application to be admitted into the U.S. The individual will then have to return to Canada or Mexico and from there submit an ESTA application. They will have to wait there until they receive a travel authorization before going back to the U.S. port of entry.
An approved ESTA is typically valid for 2 years and can be used for multiple entries. Individuals who already have an approved ESTA can simply use that to seek entry into the U.S. – there is no need for them to apply for one again upon arrival at a United States land border crossing.
Should the ESTA application be rejected, the applicant will no longer be able to apply for admission into the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program. He or she will instead have to visit a U.S. consulate abroad and from there apply for a non-immigrant B visa before applying for admission to the U.S. again.
PLEASE NOTE: Canadian citizens are not required to apply for U.S. visas and also do not have to apply for an ESTA if they want to enter the U.S. by sea or air. A similar exemption will now apply in the case of land border crossings.
The ESTA Application Process
ESTA applications have to be submitted via the ESTA website. The good news for people who are used to filling out I-94W forms is that the ESTA application form mainly asks for the same information that has until now been part of the paper I-94W form. CBP will verify the info submitted by an applicant in their ESTA application against a number of databases such as watch lists and stolen and lost passport databases. CBP has the right to reject an ESTA application under any of the following circumstances:
- The applicant poses a security or law enforcement risk to the United States.
- The applicant is not a U.S. citizen and he or she provided false information.
- The applicant is not a U.S. citizen and he or she failed to provide the necessary information.
- There is evidence that the applicant is not eligible to enter the U.S. under the VWP.
In cases where a non-US citizen has his or her ESTA application denied, they will still be able to visit an appropriate U.S. consulate or embassy to apply for a visa to enter the country.
To check whether your ESTA application has been approved or not, you will have to go back to the ESTA website. CBP needs at least two hours to make a decision about an ESTA application, but in some cases, it can take significantly longer. In the majority of cases, however, applicants will get a decision within a 72-hour period. Anyone who needs help with processing their pending ESTA application can phone the ESTA Help Desk at 1-202-325-5120.
ESTA Amendments and Validity Period
As mentioned earlier, once approved an ESTA is normally valid for a 2-year period and it can be used for more than one entry into the U.S. at an air, sea, and now also a land port of entry.
Travelers from VWP countries who already have an approved ESTA will have to apply for a new one under any of the following circumstances:
- The individual changes his or her name
- Their passport expired and they have been issued with a new one
- They undergo a gender change
- He or she is no longer a citizen of the country mentioned in the approved ESTA document
- The answer to any of the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions in the ESTA application form has changed.