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Friday, Jan. 9, 2009
U.S. pushes new entry system one last time
Prior to next week's launch of a new online immigration system, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo made its final attempt Thursday to call on Japanese to preregister before they head off for a trip to the States.
The embassy has been promoting introduction of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization amid concerns there will be confusion at airports among travelers who don't know about the new system.
"What we are trying to do is to bring in the latest technology there is so we can make it as easy as possible for people to get into the U.S.," U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer said. "What we want is more visitors to come to America and what we're trying to do is to make that easier for them to do."
Officials of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and embassy staff will be at airports to check on the process for the first three days after the system is launched Monday, embassy officials said.
ESTA has already been up and running in some countries since November without any problems, the officials said.
All tourists from 35 countries, including Japan, that have joined the Visa Wavier Program with U.S. must request and receive electronic travel authorization through ESTA before entering the U.S. on an aircraft or cruise ship.
Without authorization, they cannot board their plane or vessel.
As of Thursday, some 160,000 Japanese planning to visiting the U.S. for 90 days or less had registered on ESTA, Schieffer said.
He said 99.43 percent were able to and received the authorization on their first try.
Hawaii-born former sumo wrestler Jesse Takamiyama, who also goes by his stablemaster name Azumazeki, demonstrated the online registration and authorization in front of the media at the U.S. Embassy.
He said the process was easier than he expected.
"When I first learned of ESTA last month on television, I thought it may be a difficult thing to do. But actually, I was surprised how the process was over so quickly," said Takamiyama, who became a naturalized Japanese in 1989.
Details can be found on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Web site at www.dhs.gov