US visa rules could put off travellers

New rules went into effect this week requiring people traveling to the U.S. under the visa waiver program to register online in advance, instead of filling out paper forms in flight or at the airport and US travel groups fear it will discourage inbound traffic.The new program, designed to improve U.S. security, has been voluntary since August, but became mandatory Monday. Travelers are being asked to fill out the forms at least 72 hours in advance of travel.

There were no signs of confusion Monday as the new system was implemented at London Heathrow’s sprawling Terminal 5—departure point for many U.S.-bound flights.

The rules cover the citizens of 35 countries—from nations in Europe and Asia, to Australia and New Zealand—who don’t require a visa to enter the U.S.

The US Travel Association, the Washington-based non-profit organisation which represents all sectors of the travel industry warned that the new Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) forms have been poorly communicated and do not take into account those people who are not computer-literate.

“America’s travel community supports the ESTA for its potential to improve security and increase convenience for travellers from visa waiver countries,” said Roger Dow, president and chief executive of the US Travel Association. “However, we are concerned that many of those who must comply with ESTA are not aware of it, do not fully understand what it is, or may be turned away at airports for non-compliance if the new requirements are fully enforced.