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The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), an automated, web-based system, was established pursuant to section 711 of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007.[1] The addition of ESTA data to the ATS-Passenger (ATS-P) program facilitates advance screening of travelers from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries who wish to enter the United State at air or sea points of entry. Before the inclusion of ESTA data as a source for ATS-P, use of information typically found on the paper I-94W Notice of Arrival/Departure Form for persons traveling from VWP countries was not available to CBP until the travelers arrived in the United States.

Nationals of VWP countries seeking to enter the United States by air or sea carriers now must submit PII electronically to ESTA prior to travel. As a result, this data is now available for use by ATS-P in screening prior to departure to the United States. CBP and the DHS Privacy Office published a PIA, SORN, and Interim Final Rule for ESTA in June 2008.

DHS announced ESTA as a new requirement for travelers entering the United States under the VWP on June 9, 2008, and began accepting ESTA applications on a voluntary basis in August 2008. Beginning January 12, 2009, DHS required all VWP travelers to apply for ESTA approval prior to travel to the United States. DHS began enforcing compliance with ESTA requirements in March 2010, exercising the right to fine a carrier or rescind its VWP signatory status for failure to comply with the ESTA requirement.

In developing and implementing ESTA, DHS took several steps to minimize the burden associated with ESTA use. For example, ESTA reduced the requirement that passengers provide biographical information to DHS officials from every trip to once every two years. In addition, because of ESTA, DHS has informed passengers who do not qualify for VWP travel that they need to apply for a visa before they travel to the United States.


  1. Pub. L. No. 110-53 (Aug. 3, 2007).