New fee for (some) travelers to the United States
Travelers who could previously enter the United States for free are now being charged through part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's online system -- but those wishing to apply struggled to access the site.
Beginning September 8, tourists from 36 nations under the Visa Waiver Program are required to pay U.S.$14 through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before they travel to the United States. ESTA is an online system that determines whether those under the program are eligible to visit the United States.
Countries in the Visa Waiver Program include Japan, Singapore, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Spain, France and Italy. Entry into the States was previously free for the program’s beneficiaries. For a full list of countries whose citizens are affected by the new measure, click here.
Ten dollars out of ESTA’s US$14 will be used to promote the United States as a holiday destination, with the rest being used to cover ESTA operating costs.
The decision to charge tourists for tourism promotion raised some eyebrows when it was announced.
"It's like inviting a friend over for dinner and then charging them a fee at the door," said Steve Lott, a spokesman for the International Air Transport Association, CNN reported.
Last minute applications and the introduction of the fee processing system forced the ESTA website to be down for several hours on Wednesday.
In Hong Kong, frustrated users who clicked ‘apply’ at the ESTA entry portal during Wednesday morning and early afternoon were led to a site that timed out and wouldn’t load.
An email to ESTA technical support returned an answer that the site was down for routine maintenance.
Users in the U.K. also encountered similar problems earlier this week.
“What’s the point, you can’t get on the website anyway... I think they should extend the date to help people get on the site and fill out forms!” ran a comment posted on the Daily Mail website on September 7.