UPDATE: The ESTA Fee Has Now Become Law.
The U.S. Senate just passed a bill (with the House expected to shortly do the same) which would add a $10 fee every time a visa waiver person renewed their ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) registration. If such is the case, then one might as well pay the $131 and get an old-fashioned B-2 (tourist) Visa, valid for ten years.
In addition, the State Department is about to announce a new tiered MRV fee schedule (which they had hoped to impose this October 1 but couldn’t get OMB clearance in time) which is simply outrageous. It would apply to many types of work visas.
In a more informative vein, here is some text I lifted from an FSO’s blog which gives the real scoop. I’d prefer to keep this person’s identity secret now for obvious reasons.
The US senate has passed a bill that would require all visa waiver travelers to pay a $10 fee every time they renew their registration in ESTA. This money would go toward creating a new, many-legged bureaucracy “to communicate United States entry policies and otherwise promote leisure, business, and scholarly travel.”
[I] remember the day the MRV fee began. It was $20, and then-Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Mary Ryan and her staff had to fight like Vikings to keep their hands on some of that money to use to upgrade and improve consular systems. Now consular systems are amazing, and the MRV fee has paused only momentarily at $131 on its way to the stratosphere, and on its spread to paying for all sorts of offices and programs that have little to do with visas…
Into this mix shortly will fall a ‘tiered’ MRV fee schedule guaranteed to confound and frustrate applicants, officers, off-site collection parties, consular cashiers and travel agencies even further still. And [I] predict that the price will continue to rise just because it can, and because the US is too cheap to consider consular work a line item – exactly the way so many low-life US states fund their educational systems through lotteries – as long as there’s money to be made, while old ladies in Paris, Moscow and Uttar Pradesh pay these usurious fees and deal with unsavory characters they would never speak to under normal circumstances, to make a trip they’re getting the feeling they’d rather not have to. (“If they can afford airline tickets, they can afford the MRV fee!” “Their children are paying it, and they have money” “If they want to see their kids, they’ll just have to tough it out” and other such arguments are cruel as well as irrelevant. Don’t even get [me] started on these. And “Secure Borders, Open Doors?” In a pig’s eye, as Grandmere would spit.)
[I] believe that communicating US entry policies is something that consulates and travel agencies worldwide already seem to do pretty well – not to mention the thousands of web sites and blogs that publicize the annoyance and outrage felt by honest travelers when they meet US entry processes at their most brutal; up close and personal. This communication is also conveyed with depressing regularity by the numerous surveys conducted all over the world that rate the United States as the world’s most unfriendly country for international travelers.
This news story [found in the link above] concludes with, ‘UTA CEO Roger Dow said the legislation would help the United States “strengthen its image in the world as visitors leave with an improved perception of our country and her people.”‘
Sorry, Roger. You can put lipstick on a pig and call her Fifi, but she’s still a pig. [I] do not believe for a single instant that picking VWP travelers’ pockets for ten measly dollars will do anything to improve any of this. Nor would picking their pockets for $100 or $1000, which is, without doubt, coming down the tracks.
The only thing that could possibly do what Roger says would be the initiation of actually user-friendly processes for visa applications, VWP travel, and immigration. Right now, visitors are greeted with the equivalent of, “Who the hell are you and what the hell do you want and why the hell should I care?” and leave to, “Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?” And when might this improve, no matter how much we pick travelers’ pockets for?
If Roger Dow and his merry pirates, and the honorable gentlemen and ladies of the US senate, really believe that a few travel posters might improve these arrogant, debasing, humiliating and shamelessly costly circumstances, [I] can only offer a bit of advice to the world’s travelers: ‘Have mercy on yourselves. Visit Tahiti.’