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The ESTA on-line application is NOT instead of the green via waiver form. For the foreseeable future we will all have to complete a green waiver form as well as comleting the ESTA application (which is very easy to do).
The info on USA websites don't agree this new system replaces the form filling on the plane before arrival into USA and the following is a quote from Head of Homelands Security Secretary about the system
"The green visa waiver form that is filled out by Britons visiting the US will be phased out next year - it's the paperwork that has for years plagued travellers who discover it in their passport long after they return home.
From January 12 2009, the green form is being replaced by an eletronic system, which will require travellers to fill in a form before they fly.
The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) forms are available online at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov. Travellers who do not fill in the forms will be barred from boarding an aircraft or vessel bound for the US.
The form requires similar information to that currently requested by the green form: details of criminal records, communicable diseases, history of visa revocation or deportation and personal details such as name, birth date and passport number.
Previously travellers currently fill in a green visa waiver form that is handed out by cabin crew on approach to the US. Part of the form is given in on arrival into the US and the rest should be taken by airport security staff on leaving the country. if this doesn't hapen, travellers must return the form by post to the US authorities, along with a letter of explanation and proof of departure.
The US authorities say the new system is simpler: Once filled in, the data is kept on record for two years, so subsequent visits within that time do not require more online form filling.
It is also intended also tighten security: "Getting this information in advance enables our front-line personnel to determine whether a visa-free traveler presents a threat before boarding an aircraft or arriving on our shores," said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
There will still be the declaration for foodstuffs etc to be completed.