The US has moved a step closer to charging travellers who do not require a visa a $10 fee to enter the country.
Yesterday (September 14), the US Senate passed the Travel Promotion Act which requires visitors to pay $10 to fill in the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) application.
The Bill still has to pass the House of Representatives but observers expect this to be a formality and for it to become law towards the end of the year.
The aim of the fee is to raise money to re-instate a US-wide tourism promotion department to increase visitors to the US. The US has not had an overall tourism promotion body since 1995 when the department was dissolved.
Kate Burgess-Craddy, Visit USA chairwoman, said: “We would rather the [US authorities] were not using the international tourist to finance this.
“However, we do welcome the setting up of a country-wide tourism promotion agency and if this is the way they have to do it so be it.”
She also urged UK visitors to fill in the form now at no charge rather than wait until the Bill becomes law.
Roger Dow, CEO and President of the US Travel Association has defended the Bill, saying: “Our nation’s economy is struggling and international travel promotion is part of the solution.
“This much-needed legislation will help the United States to create thousands of new jobs and welcome billions in new spending by international visitors.”
However, the European Union is raising strong criticism of the move, as previously reported on breakingtravelnews.com.
If the act is passed, the EU is suggesting that some US travellers to Europe could face a similar charge.
The EU will have to reconsider whether the US registration system with the new fee would amount to a visa. The EU might then have to consider visas for US travellers.
The EU does not believe that they should be paying for a US programme to promote travel.
John Bruton, the European Commission’s Ambassador to Washington said in a statement that: “Only in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ could a penalty be seen as promoting the activity on which it is imposed.”
The $10 fee is valid for two years or the length of time remaining on a visitor’s passport and is applicable just to tourists on a visa waiver programme, such as British visitors.