Thousands of travelers
risk being detained and sent home from U.S. airports and ports.
The introduction of the Electronic System for Travel
Authorization (ESTA) means visitors from 27 VWP countries -- including most of
Western Europe, New Zealand, Japan and Australia -- must now register their
details online at least three days before departure.
ESTA -- which came into effect today -- replaces the written
green I-94 form and allows travelers under the VWP to enter the U.S. without a
visa and stay for up to 90 days.
The measure is designed to tighten security and make it
harder for terrorists who are citizens of the participating countries to easily
obtain entry to the U.S.
Critics fear the new rule will be an inconvenience for
business travelers and the British Foreign Office is concerned that travelers
who have not heard about the new rules may be caught out.
A British Foreign Office report on travel trends for 2009
predicted that 13 percent of British travelers are more likely to visit the
States now Barack Obama has been elected. "The consequences of not registering
through ESTA could therefore be far reaching," says the Foreign Office.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has assured
travelers that the system can handle last-minute and emergency requests.