Strict New Rules For US Visits
Advice Strict new rules for US visits
By Scott Fraser
September 18, 2005
SOMETHING about having your fingerprints taken makes you feel like a criminal. But at least it's not messy – none of that ink-pad routine you see on the TV cop shows.
Instead, each index finger is scanned digitally, just as you would scan a photograph into a computer.
And having your photograph taken does not involve holding up a crudely written sign with your name on it, as you pose before a height chart. No, your mug shot is recorded as you look into a small silver sphere, rather like a metallic eyeball, on the end of a bendy stalk.
This is not part of a criminal investigation. It is part of a scheme called US-VISIT. And these days – since September 11, 2001 – this is how travellers are welcomed into the US.
Entry procedures have been tightened severely in the battle against international terrorism and it can be a slow and tedious process for travellers.
Thankfully, most Australian tourists can visit the US without applying for a visa in advance, as long as they have a machine-readable passport.
Machine-readable Australian passports have two lines of 44 characters at the bottom of the personal particulars page. If you are unsure, check by contacting Passports Australia on 131 232.
Our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warns that under the US's strict entry regime, Australians may be refused entry on arrival if they fail to comply with entry requirements. And US officials stress there is no appeal against the immigration officer's decision.
DFAT urges Australians to contact the nearest US Embassy or Consulate about their specific circumstances, well before travel. This includes Australians planning to transit the US.
And it says visa conditions are subject to change. However, up-to-date information is posted on several websites, such as the US Embassy in Canberra or consulates in capital cities, the US State Department or US Customs and Border Protection Agency.
People who intend to work or study may need to obtain a visa beforehand, but ordinary tourists are generally eligible for 90 days admission under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
The 90-day period cannot be extended and includes any time spent in Canada, Mexico or adjacent islands.
Qualifications for a waiver include holding a return or onward ticket. You fill in the relevant green form, the I-94W, on the plane.
Even if you don't meet eligibility requirements, that does not mean you are barred. Such travellers may apply for specially annotated visas. But if they try to travel visa-free, they will be refused entry.
DFAT says Australians with a criminal record should ensure they seek information about their visa requirements for entering or transiting the US.
The US says a single drink-driving conviction that did not involve jail does not stop you using the visa waiver program. But you must answer "yes" to the question about being arrested and charged, and carry documentation that shows you were not jailed.
All ports of entry use the US-VISIT identification scheme but, as yet, not all ports of departure.
DFAT warns that visitors staying beyond the 90-day VWP limit, or beyond the date stamped on their arrival card, may be arrested and detained for up to seven weeks or more. They may then be deported and likely barred from re-entering the US, possibly for life.
More: Passports Australia, 13 12 32; Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, www.dfat.gov.au
The Sunday Telegraph