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WHTI and US-Visit Information

Reminders on North American Travel Regulations

Updated: Feb. 25, 2009

Travelers heading to the United States need to be aware of updates in U.S. travel regulations and document requirements that will effect their visits. The two main programs that will have the greatest impact are the Electronic System for Travel Authorization and the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

Requirements under ESTA mandate that residents of the 35 Visa Waiver Program countries visiting the United States have to obtain a travel authorization prior to traveling to the United States. To do this, international travelers must complete and submit biographical information via an online form (essentially an electronic I-94) to DHS officials who will review it and either approve or deny the request. An FAQ document as well as fact sheets in nine languages offer more information on ESTA.

The final portion of WHTI, which requires travelers to present one government-approved document to enter the United States at land and sea borders, will take effect June 1, 2009. For U.S. citizens, the two main government-approved documents that may be used for re-entry are the U.S. Passport Book and the new U.S. Passport Card. Information on documents needed by Canadian citizens visiting the United States is available on the Canada Border Services Agency Web site.

  

New Rules for International Travelers Take Effect Jan. 12, 2009

Updated: Jan. 6, 2009

International travelers coming to the United States from the 34 nations that are part of the Visa Waiver Program face enhanced security requirements beginning Jan. 12, 2009, through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's electronic system for travel authorization (ESTA) program.

Travelers from the VWP countries will need to fill out the ESTA online form and receive advanced authorization prior to coming to the United States. DHS officials will then review the information and either approve or deny the passenger's entry. The form, which asks for the biographical information typically provided via the I-94W paper form that guests currently fill out upon arrival at a U.S. port of entry, should be submitted as far in advance as possible to allow proper review and response time.

Each ESTA will be valid for a period of two years and will allow visitors unlimited travel to the United States during that timeframe. Approval will not be granted to travelers holding a passport that expires within six months of when they apply for an ESTA.

Fact sheets with more information on the initiative have been prepared in the following nine languages — English, Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Italian, Dutch, Swedish and Portuguese — and are available if you click here. Also, an FAQ document is available in English.

Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative

Updated: April 8, 2008

On March 27, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of State (DOS) announced the final rule for the land and sea portion of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), a core 9/11 Commission recommendation. The WHTI final rule requires travelers to present a passport or other approved secure document denoting citizenship and identity for all land and sea travel into the United States. WHTI establishes document requirements for travelers entering the United States who were previously exempt, including citizens of the U.S., Canada and Bermuda. These document requirements will be effective June 1, 2009.

In addition to the release of the WHTI final rule, DHS is officially designating the Washington State Enhanced Driver's License (EDL) a WHTI-compliant document. As of March 24, Washington State had already scheduled more than 18,600 appointments for EDL interviews and issued more than 6,400 EDLs.

DHS is publishing the WHTI land and sea final rule more than a year in advance of its implementation to give the public ample notice and time to obtain the WHTI-compliant documents they will need to enter or re-enter the United States on or after June 1, 2009.

Beginning June 1, 2009, DHS will institute special provisions that allow school or other organized groups of children ages 18 and under who are U.S. or Canadian citizens to enter the U.S. with proof of citizenship alone.

Over the next 14 months, the Departments will be conducting public information campaigns to inform U.S. and Canadian citizens about the new document requirements. These campaigns will include special outreach to residents of border communities who may be most impacted by the new document requirements. DHS and DOS are working with the Canadian government to ensure widespread and consistent communications on both sides of our land borders.

Upon implementation of WHTI, travelers will be required to present a single WHTI-compliant document denoting both citizenship and identity when seeking entry into the United States through a land or sea border. Standardized, secure and reliable documentation will enable Customs and Border Protection officers to quickly and accurately identify travelers at land and sea ports of entry. The WHTI secure document requirement is already in place for all air travelers.

For more information, see the Frequently Asked Questions document.

US-VISIT Update

The Department of Homeland Security plans to replace the current two-fingerprint scanners with new 10 fingerprint scanners at all U.S. ports of entry over the next year.

On November 29, 2007, Homeland Security began the initial transition at Washington Dulles International Airport. In early 2008, nine U.S. airports began collecting additional fingerprints from international visitors. They include:

US VISIT is evaluating 10 fingerprint collection at these airports. It will use the results to inform the deployment of the technology to the remaining air, sea and land border ports of entry that will transition to collecting 10 fingerprints by December 2008.

The department's US-VISIT program currently checks a visitor's fingerprints against DHS records of immigration violators and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) records of wanted persons and known or suspected terrorists. Checking biometrics against the watch list helps officers make visa determinations and admissibility decisions. Collecting 10 fingerprints also improves fingerprint matching accuracy and the department's ability to compare a visitor's fingerprints against latent fingerprints collected by Department of Defense (DOD) and the FBI from known and unknown terrorists all over the world. Additionally, visitors' fingerprints are checked against the FBI's Criminal Master File.

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