The ESTA process for completing your information to enter the US on the Visa Waiver Program is relatively easy to understand and complete online. However, how is this working in practice? For those computer literate, it is easy. For those who are not, there seems to be some issues.
Travel agents are actually helping their customers with completing the ESTA information. However, they are failing to explain what ESTA is. It also appears that travel agents are writing letters to the customers not explaining what the validation period means. While the ESTA validation is 2 years, the actual permitted time in the US on the visa waiver program is 90 days.
From a recent client, I learned that the client thought the validation period of ESTA was indeed the validation period of her entry into the US. She overstayed her visa waiver, as she didn’t really understand that the stamp in her passport was the ruling factor. She relied on the letter from the travel agent and took their word as gospel.
Not surprisingly, a simple trip to Canada turned into a small nightmare for her. Since she overstayed her visa waiver, she was refused entry and had to return to her home country.
While it is true that it was her responsibility to know the validity period of her visa in the US, and should have known the difference between ESTA and the Visa Waiver Program, it cannot be denied that there are people out there taking advantage of vulnerable people like my client. The travel agent had no problem taking money from the client and extending the ticket for another 3 months!
I would encourage travel agency governing bodies to impose responsibilty on agents to ensure they do not exploit people like my client and to read the rules themselves before giving incorrect legal advice and jeopardizing the possibilities of reentry in the US for someone who would otherwise be eligible to do so.
I am incensed by the flagrant disregard of the law, the rules and lives of people by such travel agents.