Non-visa holding citizens of most European countries, Australia, and Japan will need to complete an electronic application process before traveling to the U.S., under a Department of Homeland Security program that will be in place by January 2009.
Under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) program -- which takes effect on January 12, 2009 -- citizens from "Visa Waiver Program" countries who wish to travel to the U.S. for 90 days or less will need to provide necessary biographical and eligibility information before their trip, using an online application system. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will review the application and make queries against law enforcement databases before issuing a travel eligibility determination. The ESTA applies to citizens and nationals from 27 countries that have been identified under the DHS "Visa Waiver Program," which includes most European countries, Australia, Japan, and New Zealand. ESTA does not apply to U.S. citizens traveling overseas or returning to the U.S. Reuters quotes DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff on the ESTA program: "Getting this information in advance enables our frontline personnel to determine whether a visa-free traveler presents a threat, before boarding an aircraft or arriving on our shores."