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The European Commission
has sharply criticized the United States for announcing last week the introduction of a fee for its Electronic System for Travel Authorization. European
commissioner for home affairs Cecilia Malmström said the fee would damage "transatlantic
She also will investigate
whether the application of a $14 charge starting Sept. 8 will render ESTA
tantamount to a visa application process for visitors from countries in the
U.S. Visa Waiver Program. Twenty-three European Union member states are
included in the 36-country program.
Passport holders from VWP
countries entering the United States without a visa have been obliged to make
an ESTA application since January 2009. The online process usually tells them
within seconds whether they have been granted the authorization, which permits
the passport holder multiple entries to the United States for two years or
until their passport runs out.
In line with the Travel
Promotion Act of 2009, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced an interim
final rule on Aug. 6 that ESTA applicants must pay a $14 fee, of which $10 will
go toward tourism promotion and $4 toward administration of the program.
Malmström said an EC assessment
in December 2008 concluded ESTA was not tantamount to a visa application but
that she will have to take another look at the situation. "I regret very
much the fee established by the interim rule," she said in an official
statement. "I have repeatedly raised concerns about the introduction of
this fee and I remain convinced that these new requirements, applicable only to
travelers under the Visa Waiver Program, are inconsistent with the commitment
of the U.S. to facilitate transatlantic mobility and will be an additional onus
for European citizens traveling to the U.S."
A spokesperson for CBP
said she was unable to comment on the commissioner's remarks. However, she
added: "It's a nominal fee. We continue to be a welcoming country for one
million people to the United States every day."