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How funds generated by ESTA are used in the U.S.

Updated: Nov 15, 2023  | Tags: ESTA Improvements, ESTA Processing

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) are integral components of U.S. travel policy, playing an essential role in regulating and facilitating travel to the United States. This article delves into the financial aspect of these systems, particularly how the U.S. government uses the funds generated through them, and provides an overview of the VWP.

Overview of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)

The VWP, established by the U.S. government, enables citizens of 41 countries to enter the U.S. for business or tourism for stays of up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. These VWP countries, reciprocate by allowing U.S. citizens and nationals to travel to their territories for a similar amount of time without a visa for business or tourism purposes.

The VWP promotes international travel while maintaining the security of U.S. borders.

What is ESTA?

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is a security measure introduced alongside the VWP. Travelers under the VWP are screened prior to their departure to the U.S., allowing authorities to assess the security risk they may pose.

To travel under the VWP, nationals of participating countries must apply for an approved ESTA. ESTA applications are submitted online, and approval is typically received within 72 hours.

Allocation of ESTA and VWP Funds

The U.S. government uses the funds collected from the ESTA and the VWP to finance various programs and initiatives. The money is distributed between the following main areas:

[1] Operational Costs and Maintenance

A portion of the funds is allocated for the upkeep of the ESTA system itself. This includes maintaining the online platform, ensuring its security, processing applications, and updating the system as needed.

[2] Corporation for Travel Promotion (Brand USA)

Under the Travel Promotion Act of 2009, a part of the ESTA fee goes towards funding the Corporation for Travel Promotion, now known as Brand USA. Brand USA is a public-private partnership tasked with promoting the U.S. as a premier travel destination. Its mission includes enhancing international understanding of U.S. travel policies, promoting U.S. tourism, and driving economic growth.

[3] U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

CBP also receives a portion of the ESTA fee. These funds are used to secure the U.S. borders, facilitating lawful international travel and trade. This includes personnel training, procurement of equipment, and improvements in facilities and infrastructure to manage and secure U.S. borders better.

[4] U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

A part of the fee goes to the DHS for enhancing security measures and ensuring the safe and lawful entry of travelers into the U.S. This includes developing and implementing programs to secure U.S. air, land, and sea borders and facilitate legal immigration.


The Visa Waiver Program and ESTA are pivotal in promoting secure and efficient international travel to the U.S. The fees collected through the ESTA system support the maintenance and enhancement of U.S. security infrastructure, and fund initiatives to promote U.S. tourism globally.

These programs embody a balance between welcoming international visitors and maintaining the security of the country's borders. Through strategic allocation of the funds they generate, the U.S. government ensures this balance is maintained, contributing to the nation's economic growth and security.