Australia and the USA have a track record of having strong business and diplomatic relations for several decades. The number of Australians visiting the USA has doubled in the last decade, shows the available data. Even the much touted ‘Trump slump’ could not reduce the tourist influx to the US shores from Australia last year. One big reason for this steady influx of visitors from Australia to the USA is the benefits and flexibilities brought by the VWP.

What is the US VWP and what does it imply for the Australians?

The US VWP denoting the Visa waiver program is a specially developed legislation of the US govt to enable citizens of selected countries to travel to the USA for business, tourism for a period without using Visa. There are limitations of this travel allowance like a capping of 90 days staying at one time. Australia joined the US VWP back in 1996. Typically, the US govt includes countries that are deemed developed with high-income economies in the VWP. Since then the Australians citizens enjoy the privilege to travel visa-free to the USA –under certain conditions.

What is ESTA and what it denotes for Australians traveling to the USA?

Since 2008, the US govt has bolstered its immigration norms to prevent the influx of foreign nationals capable of engaging in terrorism-related activities. In fact, it was in 2006 that the US Govt announced about the introduction of the ESTA or the Electronic System for Travel Authorization program. Meant exclusively for the citizens of US Visa waiver countries, the ESTA enables such foreign nationals to travel Visa-free to the USA by flight or ship. Since Australia is a part of the US VWP, the Australian citizens became eligible for ESTA with its deployment. The US ESTA is actually modeled on the ETA system of Australia.

What are the provisions for an Australian citizen traveling to the USA under VWP?

As Australia is a part of the US VWP, an Australian citizen traveling to the USA has to apply for the ESTA online. However, there are certain conditions to be fulfilled by such a traveler and he/she has to cope with certain limitations for using ESTA under the VWP provisions.

  • The applicant has to apply for an ESTA at least 72 hours prior to the flight departure time.
  • The applicant cannot spend more than 90 days in the USA after traveling using the ETA.
  • The ESTA is also applicable for the kids. So, if an Australian citizen wants to travel to the USA under the VWP norm, he/she has to apply for an ESTA for the kid as well.

What are the ESTA benefits that an Australian citizen can avail under the VWP?

There are certain benefits of availing the ESTA for traveling to the USA under the VWP and an Australian citizen can avail those too.

  • The ESTA application is online and it takes much less time compared to obtaining a typical US Visa. There is no need to visit any US embassy or consulate to apply for the ESTA under VWP. The screening for eligibility is done online and the applicant is informed by email.
  • The ESTA application fee is nominal and it is much less compared to the cost of a US Visa.
  • Once approved an ESTA remains valid for 2 years. An Australian citizen, as a VWP country resident can travel to the USA several times using an ESTA during these 2 years.

What are the limitations of the ESTA an Australian citizen should be aware of?

The ESTA was introduced by the US govt to simplify visa-free travel for the VWP country citizens and minimize risks of entry of potentially harmful foreign nationals. It does enable the VWP country residents to travel to the USA in a hassle-free manner. However, it is not exactly a Visa and has certain limitations that an applicant (including an Australian citizen) should be aware of.

  • The ESTA lets an Australian citizen spend a maximum of 90 days at one visit and after that he/she has to return to the homeland.
  • The ESTA is linked with the passport of an Australian citizen. If the passport tenure expires the validity of the ESTA also comes to an end. In that case, the applicant has to renew the passport and apply for a fresh ESTA.
  • The ESTA only lets Australian citizen travel to the USA, as per VWP norms, without using a Visa. It, however, does not ascertain his/her entry to the USA. The final decision to let VWP foreign nationals get entry to the US territory is on the customs and immigration officials. In some rare instances, the CBP officers may deny entry to a foreign national traveling with ESTA even if his/her documents and passports are valid.

What an Australian citizen traveling to the USA under VWP should do to evade hassles?

While the ESTA has been made effective to ease traveling to the USA simpler and faster for the VWP country citizens, the applicants need to be careful about certain aspects. This is applicable for the Australian citizens as well.

  • The Australian citizens planning to travel to the USA under VWP, using the ESTA should check the passport. The passport should be valid after the departure date. It has to be a machine-readable passport.
  • The documents like a journey and return ticket should be kept ready. These will be checked thoroughly by the CBP agents at the US ports or airports upon arrival. The documents for traveling and staying within the USA during the tour should be kept ready too.
  • The Australian citizen opting for ESTA under VWP must have a clean track record for previous crime related activities.
  • The applicant must be in good health.
  • The applicant should be careful about entering accurate data in the ESTA online application form and ensure the entered data matches with that in his/her passport.

How can an Australian citizen apply for ESTA under the VWP?

The procedure for applying for ESTA is almost the same for the residents of all VWP countries and it is identical for an Australian citizen too.

An Australian passport holder has to apply for the ESTA online using a PC or mobile device. The applicant needs to fill up an online form and submit the required documents online. An electronic and valid passport is required for the application. This does not take much time.

A fee has to be paid for the processing online at the time of ESTA application and debit card or online banking can be used for it. In most cases, the applicants get approval for ESTA within a few minutes. However, the maximum time for assessment of ESTA applications is set at 72 hours. The applicants are notified through their emails. Once the ESTA clearance is obtained, no further screening or assessment is required in Australia for the applicants.

What if an Australian citizen is not granted ESTA after applying for it under VWP?

In most cases, the Australian citizens opting for the ESTA under VWP are granted approval, without much delay. However, in some exceptional situations, such applicants may find their ESTA applications have been rejected. This does not actually mean such Australian residents cannot at all, travel to the USA. If their ESTA application is declined, they can still opt for the available US visas. For that, they have to approach the nearby US embassy and obtain information on what type of US visas they are eligible for. They may be allowed to apply for a B1 Business Visa or B2 Tourist Visa, based on their situations and eligibility, etc.

Under which situations an Australian citizen may be denied ESTA?

While the VWP country citizens have to apply for ESTA when they want to travel to the USA for short terms, not all of them can actually be deemed eligible for such travel. As a VWP country citizen, an Australian passport holder can also be deemed ineligible for ESTA if he/she is found to be associated with certain situations or factors. These are:

  • If the applicant traveled to countries like Syria, Iran, Iraq, Sudan after March 1, 2011 (except for diplomatic or military purposes for a VWP nation).
  • If the applicant has a communicable disease like HEP C or AIDS.
  • If the applicant is known to have a criminal past and a history of imprisonment for the same.
  • If the applicant enters data in the ESTA application form that does not match with the passport information.