As of this month, visitors to the United States who don’t require a visa must fill out a Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). No one seems to like ESTA, which some have called costly to the US tourism industry and others believe is unnecessary. But has anyone bothered to take the look at the actual questions on the form?
Before I share those with you, I should note the Department of Homeland Security is running this show. I hate to pile on DHS after my little run-in with them over the New Years holiday, but you can’t make this stuff up. (These queries don’t appear to be new, for the most part, but they are being encountered by many international visitors for the first time.)
Here are the questions:
Do any of the following apply to you? (Answer Yes or No)
A) Do you have a communicable disease; physical or mental disorder; or are you a drug abuser or addict?
B) Have you ever been arrested or convicted for an offense or crime involving moral turpitude or a violation related to a controlled substance; or have been arrested or convicted for two or more offenses for which the aggregate sentence to confinement was five years or more; or have been a controlled substance trafficker; or are you seeking entry to engage in criminal or immoral activities?
C) Have you ever been or are you now involved in espionage or sabotage; or in terrorist activities; or genocide; or between 1933 and 1945 were you involved, in any way, in persecutions associated with Nazi Germany or its allies?
D) Are you seeking to work in the U.S.; or have you ever been excluded and deported; or been previously removed from the United States or procured or attempted to procure a visa or entry into the U.S. by fraud or misrepresentation?
E) Have you ever detained, retained or withheld custody of a child from a U.S. citizen granted custody of the child?
F) Have you ever been denied a U.S. visa or entry into the U.S. or had a U.S. visa canceled?
I did a double-take on the question about terrorists and Nazis. That’s just a stupid question. Why? Well, if you were a terrorist or a former Nazi, would you answer “yes”? Do you think the jihadists who try to blow up planes with their underpants would answer the question honestly, if they came from a visa waiver country?
Silly questions like this just insult visitors to America, as opposed to making them feel welcome. People like Trevor Broome, who lives in England, and was kind enough to forward his ESTO application to me.
“I’ve no idea who composed the enhanced security questionnaire,” he told me. “But the questions were excruciatingly funny.”
He means funny, in a bad way.
I wonder: Did anyone read the questionnaire before they approved it? And if so, who?
What do you think DHS should be asking international visitors before they enter the country?
(Photo: BraunImaging/Flickr Creative Commons)
Update (10:30 a.m.): I’m grateful for all the comments on this post. I’m aware that these questions are being asked for legal reasons, and as such, may be deemed necessary. That doesn’t make them any less insulting to visitors.