As a result of the very fragile dynamics surrounding global politics, policy-makers who are directly involved in immigration and cross-border travelling undoubtedly have their hands very full. They don’t always get it right though, and it’s in a sense a matter of averages. In some cases fully qualified tourists which would do nothing but add value to the country they intend to visit get unduly turned away, such as is the case with the recent implications surrounding visitors from countries who would have been affected by the ESTA Visa service, which effectively allows citizens of certain countries to easily file their ESTA online (Electronic System for Travel Authorizations) and subsequently benefit from the associated US Visa waiver program.
Ordinarily, the US Visa Waiver program was originally set up to distinguish the travellers who would otherwise have no problem getting a visa for travel to the US from those travellers who would have to go through a much more rigorous visa application process. The starting point of this distinction is through geographic location, as is to be expected to a certain extent, and so there are currently 38 countries whose citizens could potentially qualify for the visa waiver program and by-pass the normal visa application process.
In line with the suggested disconnect between key policy-makers and the practicalities surrounding international and cross-border travel however, a rather controversial if not overly politically-driven embargo was set to shake the very fundamentals of the ESTA US visa waiver program to the core. What was tabled were essentially a potentially very limiting set of conditions attached to the eligibility of US-headed travellers who would otherwise easily benefit from their use of the ESTA platform. It was basically a case of these travellers in effect being barred from travelling to the USA, particularly via the visa waiver program, if they had previously travelled to Iran, a country which was placed under economic and political sanctions by the USA and its trade partners.
In line with each country’s political and economic ambitions, something like this would definitely be understandable, but as would be proven based on the various implications to tourism and trade, this is thankfully a road which the policy-makers chose not to go all the way down. Taking a more direct look at the implications, it would essentially have meant that South Korean, Australian, European and Japanese tourists who have been to Iran no longer qualified for visa-free entry into the United States.
A collateral diplomatic storm has undoubtedly been averted, and although there may be undertones of a more direct diplomatic challenge brewing between the USA and Iran, fortunately for now ESTA-eligible nationals can still take full advantage of the ESTA visa service. Filing ESTA online carries on as usual for the 38 countries currently listed, including the United Kingdom, Japan, Austria, Czech Republic, Portugal, Singapore, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France, and Taiwan, to name but just a few. So even though nationals from these countries may have travelled to Iran, for now the indication is that they can still travel to the US, visa free.