Person holding open passport book.

On June 21, 2023, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced the launch of a mobile app that will allow travelers from forty countries to apply for visa-free travel authorization directly on their handheld devices.

Quick Hits

  • CBP recently launched a mobile app to facilitate applications via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), an automated system for determining the eligibility of travelers from certain countries to enter the United States without formal visa stamping at U.S. consulates abroad.
  • The ESTA mobile app is optimized for launching applications, scanning passport images, and uploading video selfies to confirm a traveler’s identity.
  • Approved ESTA authorizations are valid for two years or until a traveler’s passport expires, whichever occurs first.

Until recently, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) application was available online only through a CBP website and was not available for completion on smartphones, mobile devices, or tablets. The new ESTA mobile app provides eligible travelers with more options to complete and track the status of their applications, scan and upload documents directly from handheld devices, and receive updates. In its recent go-live announcement, CBP confirmed that the app provides the following functionality for mobile users to

  • launch an ESTA application;
  • scan a passport image;
  • have the passport read and confirmed;
  • upload a live video selfie to confirm identity;
  • add personal and travel details to applications;
  • answer eligibility questions;
  • review and submit applications;
  • make changes or updates to applications or profiles;
  • receive notifications and application status updates; and
  • save time by storing preferences and profile details within the app.

CBP confirmed that applications for ESTA authorization are available for citizens or eligible nationals of Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries who

  • have valid passports lawfully issued by VWP countries;
  • currently do not possess visitor visas;
  • are traveling to the United States for tourism or business for stays of ninety days or less;
  • arrive via a VWP-signatory carrier and have return or onward tickets;
  • are travelers with trips that do not terminate in a U.S.-contiguous territory or adjacent island (unless the travelers are residents of one of those areas);
  • do not pose a threat to the welfare, health, safety, or security of the United States; and
  • have complied with all conditions of any previous admission under the VWP.

ESTA, which CBP established pursuant to the 2008 Visa Waiver Program, is an online application system for determining the eligibility of travelers to enter the United States from certain countries without formal visa stamping at U.S. consulates abroad. CBP created ESTA to provide security review for potential visitors to the United States without requiring visa interviews at U.S. consulates abroad. Until the launch of the mobile app, ESTA applications were available only through a secure public website with an automated form to apply for visa-free travel authorization. The secure site requires biographic, travel, and payment information to determine if an applicant is eligible to travel to the United States without a visa. The online system provides an automated response, and, prior to boarding, an airline carrier will electronically verify with CBP that an approved travel authorization is on file.

An ESTA approval is valid for two years or until the traveler’s passport expires, whichever occurs first, and authorizes the traveler to make multiple business or tourist trips—each lasting up to ninety days—to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program without having to reapply for entry authorization. Travelers on ESTA must be admissible to the United States and waive any rights to seek review of CBP findings of inadmissibility or appeal removal actions.

The ESTA website includes instructions on how to download the app, including a URL to copy/paste into a mobile browser. The ESTA mobile app is available in twenty-four languages on both iOS (Apple) and Android platforms. ESTA’s website still exists to process online applications, and CBP has not announced a decommissioning of the website.

Ogletree Deakins’ Immigration Practice Group will continue to monitor developments with respect to these and other policy changes and will provide updates on the Immigration blog as additional information becomes available.

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Ogletree Deakins has one of the largest business immigration practices in the United States and provides a wide range of legal services for employers seeking temporary business visas and permanent residence on behalf of foreign national employees.

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