Paying to get into America

Today I filled in an ESTA application form online. Every two years or so I go through this rigmarole; until about 2009, the visa waiver agreement between the UK and the US meant that you just ticked some boxes on a green form before you disembarked in the States, saying you weren’t a terrorist or a Nazi, and that was that. Now, you pay $14 (and, somewhat aggravatingly, $10 of that goes to a tourism promotion fund, when if you’re paying to go into the US, you probably don’t need tourism to be promoted to you, but there you are…) and fill out a longer form online. So all your data is in a computer somewhere (and when you start to fill out the form, there’s a stern warning to tell you you’re connecting to a government computer and mustn’t do anything bad).

Admittedly, scribbling on a bit of green cardboard was outdated even when I started doing it back in 2000, and with heightened security after all the atrocities of the last decade and a half, you can see why somebody would feel Something Must Be Done. At the same time, it seems strange that I’m answering questions about whether or not I have syphilis, and what my parents’ names are, and where my current employer is based, and if I’m considering committing crimes in the US. After all, some of us are going to be orphans and not have parents’ names to give, some of us don’t have employers, and I’m unsure that asking somebody if they’ve ever done anything bad or thought about doing anything bad is really going to catch out many real threats. After all, terrorists can lie just as much as anyone else can. (Strangely, it’s not a requirement to have a first name when you fill out this form.)

Still, I made my way through the form, which feels onerous, but then complaining about it is slightly ridiculous, because it’s not like I have to go through the much more complicated process to obtain a visa to visit the US, unlike acquaintances of mine from other countries. Having to take 15 minutes to do something and then complain about it smacks of the over-privileged coming into contact with a slightly harsher part of reality than they’re used to.

Perhaps it’s the $10 that I object to, not the collection of data that I don’t feel is really necessary.

Or it’s the lack of an email confirmation at the end of the process. I’ve got a bit of paper I can print out (that from previous experience the border staff don’t care about in the slightest) but if you’re going to make the process online, you’d think there’d be an online confirmation as well that I’d receive. Is the thing not really joined up enough?

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