Firms charge for free USA visa service
Some online travel companies are charging travellers to make a free application to the US government on their behalf, it was claimed today.
From next Monday, all travellers entering the US with passports from Visa Waiver Programme countries, such as Ireland, will have to obtain authorisation in advance of travel.
Passengers simply need to log onto the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) website before they embark on their journey and answer some questions online, a spokesperson for Holiday Homes Direct.ie said.
Until now, passengers who travelled to the US filled in the form during the flight or at immigration in Dublin or Shannon airports. The online ESTA system asks for the same information, but now it must be received in advance of the trip.
"From early in the New Year, US authorities will be entitled to refuse access to any Irish visitor who does not have the new travel authorisation," according to holidayhomesdirect.ie
"Applying for travel authorisation is 100pc free and consumers should be aware of some online companies that are attempting to charge money to make their application on their behalf.
"If you prefer, you can also apply for authorisation directly from the US government."
Although the process is "very straightforward", the application rate for the new travel authorisation has been "very low" to date, the company said.
Suzanne Quinn, managing director of Holiday Homes Direct, advised anyone who is planning a trip to the United States to fill in the form "well in advance" of their departure.
Holiday Home Direct said it has provided a link to the ESTA on their website, allowing holidaymakers to fill in the authorisation form directly for free.
The company advertises more than 1,200 privately owned holiday homes worldwide and has more than 50 holiday homes and apartments on offer in the United States.
The US Dept of Homeland Security said that all international travellers seeking to travel to the US under the Visa Waiver Programme "are now subject to enhanced security arrangements".