It’s important to remember that the ESTA – the Electronic System for Travel Authorization – is automated. It is essentially an automatic system designed to screen people who wish to travel to the USA. For this reason, the online ESTA application form tries to cover as many bases as possible, whilst facilitating the process for eligible passengers. First of all, you need to make sure that you meet the fundamental requirement of the ESTA: that is, that you are a citizen of a country that forms part of the Visa Waiver Program. This currently encompasses 38 countries, which are listed here.
The three possible responses to an ESTA application are: Authorization Approved, Travel Not Authorized, and Authorization Pending.
The most desirable outcome is, of course, Authorization Approved. In this case, it means you are entitled to travel to the USA under the terms and conditions of the Visa Waiver Program. In this case, the system will give you confirmation of your application approval, and you will receive a receipt of payment, showing you the amount that has been charged to your debit or credit card.
Despite having been approved to travel to the USA, you should bear in mind that any form of travel authorization does not guarantee admission into the country, but rather it allows you to travel to a port of entry. Essentially, the final say as to whether or not to grant your entry is down to a Customs and Border Protection Officer. This officer is likely to ask you a few questions when you cross the border, to ensure that your travel reasons are legitimate. Nevertheless, provided that your application was truthful, this should be no cause for concern.
The second, least desirable outcome of your online ESTA application is Travel Not Authorized. Should you receive an email that says that your travel to the USA has not been authorized, this means that you are not allowed to go to the USA under the Visa Waiver Program. This is not to say that you are not allowed into the country, but it does mean that you will have to apply for a US visa for your travel needs. In this case, you should contact your nearest US embassy or consulate and arrange an appointment.
Our team of ESTA specialists make every effort to make sure applications are correct and all in order before being processed, and travel authorization is very rarely declined. It is worth noting that you may apply for ESTA again, but only if any of the information that you included on your original application has since changed. If your ESTA is denied, it is because your profile does not correspond with the terms and conditions of the Visa Waiver Program. It is very important to highlight that you must not falsify any form information in order to try to get your application approved.
The third and final possible response to your online ESTA application is Authorization Pending. Again, this is a rarity, however it can occur. In this case, the response simply means that your application is being reviewed, because the automatic system could not provide an immediate determination as to the outcome.
Do not be disheartened if you receive this response, as it does not indicate negative findings. Bear in mind that the Electronic System for Travel Authorization is an automated procedure, and, due to its very nature, it cannot solve all cases immediately. Should you receive this response, you will generally be given a definitive response within 72 hours, once a review has taken place. When you get this response, you will need to provide your application number, passport number and date of birth in order to check this final determination.
Naturally, this is the most frustrating and inconvenient outcome of your online ESTA application. This is why we strive to thoroughly go through all ESTA applications before processing them. We have a team of US travel experts in place to do precisely this, and so, if you do receive a negative response, the most likely cause is one of the following reasons:
Essentially, if your ESTA is denied, you must follow the traditional process of applying for a US visa. Visa processing times can be lengthy, so we recommend that you apply for ESTA as early on in the travel planning process as you can (even before booking transport and accommodation).
As we mentioned previously, you can reapply for ESTA, but only if the information that you included on your application has genuinely changed, for whatever reason. The exception to this is if your passport had previously been reported lost or stolen; in this instance, you simply need to update your passport and reapply.
The ESTA program has been meticulously designed by the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that only people who are ineligible to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, or those whose travel would pose a law enforcement or security risk, are refused travel authorization. While the ESTA website provides a link to the ‘DHS Travel Redress Inquiry Program’ (TRIP) website, there are no guarantees that a request for redress through DHS TRIP will explain the Visa Waiver Program ineligibility that caused an ESTA refusal.
Embassies and Consulates are not able to provide details about ESTA denials or resolve the issue that caused an ESTA denial. However, they will be able to process an application for a non-immigrant visa. If this visa is approved, it is the only way that a traveler whose ESTA application has been denied can get US travel authorization.
Unfortunately, there can be no guarantees as to whether a next-day appointment can be granted, as the demand for visas is generally high, although this does vary. This is why we advise future travelers to apply for ESTA online ahead of time, even if they are not sure when they will be travelling to the USA. This means that, should their ESTA applications be denied, they will have ample time to go through the traditional visa application process.
It’s important to remember that, if you have submitted a truthful ESTA application that has been granted, and you have not breached any of the terms and conditions of the Visa Waiver Program, it is highly unlikely that you will be refused entry once you reach the USA. Nevertheless, if this does happen, you will be sent home on the same aircraft that brought you to the country, or on to your next destination if you have an onward ticket.
It’s useful to know the possible outcomes of an online ESTA application, but it is worth emphasizing that the vast majority of applications are approved within 24 hours. The whole purpose of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, and the Visa Waiver Program, is to make travel to the USA an easier process, with less bureaucracy, effort and cost. Essentially, the USA are happy to welcome tourists, business people etc., but security remains their greatest priority, and thus the system is in place to defend this, and to ensure the ability to enter the USA without a visa is not abused.
You can apply for ESTA online in a matter of minutes; you’ll just need your passport to hand, as well as a form of payment. Once you’ve received a response saying Authorization Approved, you can begin your US adventure!