Wednesday, September 8, 2010

This party's got a cover

Ever been to a club and the bouncer that's the size of a blue whale demands you fork over your ID and cash cover. Yeah, that's US. The glorious US of A is now that dimwitted mound of lard and muscle grabbing $14 from international travelers coming in to the states from a seemingly randomly selected group of 36 countries, the bulk of which are European. Yep, unless you have a visa or are friends with Donald Rumsfeld, your ass is coughing up some cash before you even get to the miniature statues of liberty and angry cab drivers.
The tax has been christened, the "operational and travel promotion" fee which is government speak for "we're poor and hate foreigners."
Basically what happens is if you live in any of those 36 countries (list can be found here: then you are allowed to come to the US for up to 90 days for tourism or business without a visa. This visa waiver program (WVP) is governed by the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), an online screening process that dictates whether you're fit to enter the country or not.
The gist is, you go online (sucks for you if you don't have a computer or internet) and answer a string of questions, which you must answer in English, because let's be honest, who the fuck speaks other languages? Quoted from "The traveler must provide, in English, biographical data including name, birth date and passport information. The traveler also must answer VWP eligibility questions regarding communicable diseases, arrests and convictions for certain crimes, past history of visa revocation or deportation and other questions. The traveler will also need their credit card information to pay the associated fees in order to complete the ESTA application."

Yes, indeed. You will need a visa, master card, discover or american express to be allowed into our country :)
Up until now, this process was free. "This process" being what advocates call "extra time and resources to check a traveler's name against "no fly" lists and other terrorist databases." Oh yeah, and it's run by the Department of Homeland Security aka Organized Crime (with shittier suits and less morals).
So, here you are with a cheaper alternative to getting a visa, which can sometimes cost up to $100. But then again, that's a visa. A visa is a visa. This shit is, well, shit. Between the mandatory credit card, and internet connection, Homeland Security has made sure not to miss another opportunity to hoard as much information as they can get their hands on. Oh, did I not mention that?

ESTA application material is stored for 12 years, regardless of whether you're approved or not. Quote: "The information collected by and maintained in ESTA may be used by other components of DHS on a need-to-know basis consistent with the component’s mission." aka your information is out there, for the world to see! Herbie the Hacker and friends have 12 years to wander thru the shadowy, electronic highways and find out about your snickers bar theft and passport number.

So, for all of you dirty foreigners that thought the visa waiver program seemed like a great idea, bust out your modems and your credit cards and welcome to the U S of A!

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