DHS Announces Paperless I-94W for Visa Waiver Travelers27 May 2010
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is surely one of the more paper-intensive federal agencies, rivaling Congress and the Pentagon in its annual consumption of wood pulp. This annual paper consumption will drop soon – at least slightly – as DHS begins to phase in a paperless system to track arrivals and departures from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) travelers, a process currently done using a paper form, I-94W. The new automated I-94W system will be introduced at U.S. airports over the next several months. (See Secretary Napolitano Announces Elimination of Paper Arrival / Departure Form to Streamline Secure Visa Waiver Program Travel, DHS Press Release, 20.May.2010.)
The Visa Waiver Program allows a foreign national from one of the current 36 VWP nations to travel to the United States for 90 days or less without the need for a B-1/B-2 visitor visa. The VWP only accepts nations with high rates of compliance with U.S. visa requirements and low rates of rejections of visa applicants.
As we have noted in articles on MurthyDotCom, a foreign national seeking admission under the VWP must be from a participating country and, among other criteria, must present an electronic or machine-readable passport from a VWP country at the port of departure, possess a valid round-trip ticket, fill out the required immigration forms, and not represent a threat to the welfare, health, safety or security of the United States. A participant also must not have violated U.S. immigration law during a prior VWP admission, and must obtain pre-departure travel authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), an online departure-screening system that was set up pursuant to the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. In lieu of a paper I-94W, the new arrival and departure tracking system for VWP travelers relies on information submitted electronically through ESTA.
The DHS press release reminds VWP travelers to initiate the ESTA process “as soon as an applicant begins making travel plans,” and notes that the applications “may be submitted at any time prior to travel, and once approved, will be valid for two years or until the applicant’s passport expires.” Further information on ESTA is available on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection WebSite.