US to implement online application for visitors from Asia and the Pacific in 2009

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The US Department of Homeland Security has announced travelers from visa waiver countries in Asia Pacific wishing to visit the US will have to apply online for authorization beginning January 12, 2009 under the newly introduced mandatory web-based Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

Passport holders from Singapore, Japan and Australia are required to apply for ESTA at least 72 hours before take-off, following a response from the US Consular Service.

According to the department, it is shifting to a paperless process from the current paper embarkation forms visitors currently fill and expected to be phased out eventually. Family members and relatives are allowed to apply on behalf of applicants who have no Internet access.

Currently on a voluntary basis, the mandatory web-based process by US authorities has processed “more than” 89,000 ESTA applications from 27 visa waiver countries.

Under the new process, each authorization is valid for multiple entries into the US for two years.

ESTA was introduced by US authorities in August last year to enhance security under the 9-11 Act.