Visa "waver" program for the US just got crazy(er)

Warning: possibly-useful-to-others travel rant below. File this under ESTA CBP DHS Visa Waver Program Travel Promotion Act

Update: looks like it's just as bad if you are an American trying to come back to the US.

OK, so it was nice a while back - after 11/9, up until 2005 or so. Just get on a plane to the US, and we get a 90 day visa at the border (being that New Zealand - and various other countries which are part of the visa waver program - don't have to pre-apply to get a visa).

Then it got a little bit crazy. We have to pre-register online, and fill in the exact same form online as we do on the plane. It's the same fields, in the same order. It's even the same damn color (dark-ish green).

This "registration" lasts for 2 years (even tho they ask for your address, and it must match, however as I don't usually stay at the same place, that's rather useless). Fine. Whatever. Takes 5 mins per passport to do.

The website is an exercise in web 0.1 (not 2.0, or 1.0, but 0.1). I'm sure they would have put a blink or marquee tag in there if they could. The help mentions IE5 and Netscape. The only plus is, no flash. It's ugly, but it works.

So, in March this year, Obama brought in the Travel Promotion Act. The idea is to get more people visiting the US. Here's now it works:

  • Some department or public/private partnership gets a load of cash ($500 million, from memory) to promote the US, 'cos in the last 10 years, tourist travel has dropped massively.

  • To pay for this, everyone who comes in pays $14.

So, in summary:

  • Step 1: Lets treat everyone who comes into the country - even just in transit - as a terrorist, grill them at the border, and generally make their first impression of the US as being a police state. I've had exceptions to those - eg the DHS guy in New Jersey, who was lovely to deal with. But generally, it feels like an interrogation. And leaving the country is worse with at least 6 passport checks before boarding and a long, long "security" line. From what I know, if you are from a non-visa waver country, it's worse again, and if you are from an arab/middle eastern country, it might be better to not bother going at all.

  • Step 2: Look at the stats on tourism, and wonder why no-one is coming to your country since you started to do this.

  • Step 3: Come up with a plan to not change the process, just charge people to come, and use the funds for propaganda (oops, marketing) for the country.

Sounds like a sure fire winner to me. Lets add a few more steps:

  • Take the existing functional-but-historic site, and add a credit card charging section to collect the $14.

  • Do something on there to crash the world most UNcrashable browser (Chrome). Basically, they manage to GPF Chrome 6 (latest) on the Mac. The app just disappears and I get a crash dump.

  • Leave any applications "in limbo" which didn't complete the payment. I can't even try another browser if I wanted to. I guess I need to wait the 7 days for it to "expire" then try the whole thing again.

I'm just glad we don't leave until mid-November. However, I'm going to be calling Air New Zealand on Monday and changing our return flight to go via Hong Kong. At least I get to walk around the airport there, in transit, not sit in a dingy, shitty transit lounge for 2 hours, which feels more like a holding area for Gitmo than LAX.

If we were not going to see friends there on the way over, I'd change both inbound and outbound flights.

The USA is a beautiful country, with a lot of nice people, but their border "controls" and "security" make it a very, very unattractive country to visit.

Nic Wise

Nic Wise

Auckland, NZ