For Greeks looking to travel to the United States, the process has just gotten a little bit easier. As before, Greek citizens can apply for an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) waiver. The difference? This waiver was previously only valid for one year. As of this month (April 2019), that has been extended to two years, more closely aligning with the visa waiver program that other major countries share with the US.
What is ESTA?
Whether traveling for business or pleasure into the US, there are certain steps non-Americans must take before they can board an America-bound flight. The number and difficulty of the steps are generally determined by the country the person in question calls home. Some governments have placed an equal emphasis on the safety of travelers and vigilance against the movement of serious criminals across borders. These countries generally have reciprocity agreements for travel between them.
Part of the US Department of State, the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) lists each of the countries whose citizens are eligible for easy travel to the US. These visa waivers allow for stays of up to 90 days without having to apply for an official visa. Once applicants have received their waivers, they’re generally cleared for visa-free travel the next two years. ESTA can be used for tourism, business trips, medical travel, or transit purposes.
Why The Controversy?
While Greece has been on the list since 2010, it took until the passage of the Passenger Name Record (PNR) law to gain similar footing alongside countries like the UK and Japan. There were previous concerns from the American State Department about the degree to which Greece invested in counterterrorism and the identification of criminals leaving the country. With cooperation on the part of the Greek government, ESTA waivers are now valid for two years for citizens of Greece.
Known for being difficult about their borders and concerned with threats of terrorism, the US places many restrictions on inbound travel. ESTA applications, submitted prior to travel, help smooth the way for American vacations. Once a traveler’s information has been submitted to the Department of Homeland Security, they will be able to find out if they’re authorized to board their flight or ship traveling to the US. Though the minimum submission timeframe is 72 hours prior to travel in most cases, passengers are strongly encouraged to apply for their travel waiver as soon as they begin planning their trip. Keep in mind that every member of the family, from adults all the way down to infants, will need their own ESTA waiver application.
Greece was not alone in this request for tighter security, either. In 2018, the European Commission called on Finland, France, Portugal and a handful of others to make the necessary changes to their legal system to require travelers to provide identifying information prior to travel. This generally includes a passenger’s name, their travel dates and itineraries, contact details and how they paid for the flight or ship accommodations. Greece’s cooperation was an important step forward for the country’s citizens.