The Impact of Coronavirus on ESTA visa

The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on so many industries. Health services have obviouslyhad to deal with the devastating strain on hospitals and other health services, due to the requirement for treatment and intensive care beds around the world.

The tourism industry has also been highly impacted by coronavirus, with travel restrictions being enforced and flight schedules being very limited since the pandemic reached the US and Europe.

Has the coronavirus reached the USA?

Yes, the US currently has more confirmed cases of coronavirus than any other country in the world. New York, California, Texas, Florida, Illinois and Wisconsin have seen particularly high infection rates. The infection rates in the US are not slowing down yet and there have been discussions in the news regarding implementing a national lockdown to try and reduce infection rates.

Are ESTA applications currently being approved?

Yes, ESTA applications are still being processed. Travel authorization in the form of the ESTA USA was still available throughout the lockdown restrictions, as the processing of the ESTA is completed automatically and does not rely on the Department of Homeland Security staff to review the straightforward applications. The ESTA system was created to be able to digitally apply for the travel authorization without requiring a person to review the application, which is required for a US visa application.

Therefore, the ESTA USA has not been directly impacted by the coronavirus in terms of the processing procedure. However, where there have been queries that needed to be escalated, these would have been delayed due to offices closing. However, there have been a significantly reduced number of ESTA applications in 2020 owing to the coronavirus travel restrictions and also the concern of picking up the infection if travelling to the US, where rates have been higher than most parts of the world.

Can I still use my ESTA to travel to the USA despite the coronavirus?

Even if you have a valid ESTA, there are travel restrictions around the world, including in the USA. If you want to travel to the US, you should check the latest news regarding travelling from your country of residence, as well as the restrictions that the US currently have for travelers entering the country (see below).

Travel ban USA

The US was one of the first countries to introduce restrictions to prevent travelers from entering the country. The ban includes anyone who has been in China, the European Schengen Area, UK, Iran, Republic of Ireland or Brazil in the previous 14 days prior to travelling to the US.

The US was also one of the first countries to set up enhanced screening procedures. The US closed down the majority of their airports and only allowed flights into 15 selected airports that were set up with enhanced screening processes for all travelers arriving in the US.

Exceptions to the travel ban

There are some exceptions to the travel ban, for example, the US citizens and people with American nationality are exclude from the ban, as well as their children and spouses. There are also exceptions for people of national interest, this can include F-1 and M-1 student visas, investors, traders and business travelers from countries who have a treaty with the US.

J-1 visas can also be classified as being in national interest. Anyone looking to apply for a visa under the exceptions will need to contact the US embassy to apply for an exception.

Can my ESTA be cancelled?

Yes, an ESTA can be cancelled if the traveler is suspected of breaching the terms of the ESTA, or not adhering to the travel ban. In some cases, an ESTA can be cancelled in error, so it is a good idea to check the status before you intend to fly to the US, in case an airline has incorrectly stated you have been in one of the banned countries.

When can I safely travel to the USA again?

In recent weeks there has been news of progress with a Covid-19 vaccine that could be ready to roll out at the end of the year, or early in 2021 which could provide the best option for travel restrictions to be lifted and tourism to get back to normal at some point after this.

Currently, airlines have put safety measures into place such as segregating travelers by leaving seats empty. They also require travelers to wear masks while travelling and there has been limited in-flight services, to minimize the amount of contact between passengers and airline staff. There are also socially distanced queuing systems and plenty of other safety measures in place when travelling.

Where can I recover the financial damages of coronavirus?

If your travel plans have been cancelled due to coronavirus, you should check your insurance to see if you are able to claim for damages. Hotels usually have their own Covid-19 cancellation policy, so you should also check with them if applicable, to see if you can get refunded any accommodation costs. Your ESTA remains valid and the cost of your application will not be refunded, even if you do not use it.

Travelling to US in 2021

The tourism sector will hopefully be able to recover in 2021 and the ESTA application process willbe readily available for travelers from visa waiver program countries to visit the US for tourism and business purposes. This means that travelers will be able to quickly obtain travel authorization and not have the delays that the US visa applications will face due to the backlog of applications and suspended services



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