Friday 28 October 2016

Ask the Expert: How will new US travel rules affect my holiday?

Travel Tips

Published 16/12/2015 | 09:10

Statue of Liberty New York. Photo: Deposit
Statue of Liberty New York. Photo: Deposit

I’m concerned about new rules about travelling to the United States. How will this affect my holiday there next year?

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I’m reckoning that you’re talking about the new bill that’s gone through the US Congress which wants the American visa waiver scheme rules tightened up.

Ireland is one of 38 countries included in the scheme, which allows Irish holidaymakers to travel to the States without the need for a visa.

In the past, getting to the States could be convoluted — you needed to have a non-immigrant visa, and I remember the days of having to bring letters to the embassy proving that I’d be returning to college/work and had the means to support myself while in America.

Nowadays, you apply online through the ESTA system, pay the fee and, presuming you pass all the checks, you’re good to go — but can be still be stopped at the US border (i.e. at Dublin/Shannon or at your point of entry in the US if flying via the UK, for instance) by an immigration official.

The new bill — which hasn’t yet been passed by the US Senate — would disqualify anyone who’s been to Iraq, Sudan, Syria or Iran on non-government business in the past five years.

That could be a problem for a very small minority of Irish people, such as aid workers, and has been criticised by European Union officials.

The US, under the bill, could also disqualify an entire country from the programme if it were unhappy with that country’s assistance on security information gathering. The bill also needs countries to have up-to-date chip passports in use, but neither of those would be an issue in the case of Ireland.

Despite murmurings in America, the visa waiver programme has plenty of security attached to it, and tourism is big business for the US, so watch this space on the Senate vote.

But don’t expect the rules to change for the worse.


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