The US Visa Waiver Program means that citizens of certain countries do not need a visa to come to the United States. Except they need an ESTA, which they have to apply for in advance. It’s just not called a visa.
Last year the US Secretary of Homeland Security said he wanted to revisit allowing Europeans to travel to the US with ‘only’ an ESTA. ESTA is effectively a visa which the US allows online application for, rather than requiring an in-person embassy visit.
Due to changes in ESTA application processing, real-time approvals will no longer be available. Citizens of participating Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries traveling to the United States are strongly encouraged to apply for an ESTA at the time of booking their trip and no later than 72 hours prior to departure. Applicants who apply on the same day of their flight’s departure risk not having an approved ESTA prior to their scheduled departure. International travelers without an approved ESTA will not be authorized to board their flight.
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By the way the number of people killed by terrorists who entered the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program is zero. Advance application for an ESTA isn’t a big deal for tourist travel relative to allowing closer-in application, but it is an encumbrance on business travel.
And U.S. travelers are certainly aware of the challenges of dealing with visa applications to visit certain countries, and how much simpler it is to visit somewhere that either doesn’t require a visa for U.S. citizens or allows for visa on arrival.
The U.S. won’t allow foreigners without approved visa or ESTA to board aircraft headed for the U.S. That raises the transaction costs of coming here, which makes doing business with the U.S., spending tourism dollars, and supporting U.S. industry more difficult for little security benefit in exchange.