Cablegate: Esta Outreach in Lithuania


DE RUEHVL #0972/01 3231253
P 181253Z NOV 08




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) Summary. Post has an aggressive outreach program underway
for the Electronic System of Travel Authorization (ESTA). Post
introduced the concept of ESTA in spring 2008, in anticipation of
Lithuania's admission to the Visa Waiver Program. Post intensified
outreach efforts in fall 2008, when it became clear that Lithuania
would qualify to join the Visa Waiver Program. EmbOffs met with
media representatives, government officials, the American Chamber of
Commerce, travel industry representatives and the local American
Citizen community to talk about ESTA and its benefits. Some
applicants report difficulties with the ESTA interface which does
not yet have help available in Lithuanian language. Post will
continue targeted outreach efforts in the coming months. End


2. (U) The following is a summary of Post's ESTA outreach

-- In spring 2008 the Consul gave a background interview at the
U.S. Embassy in Vilnius on Visa Waiver and ESTA to press
representatives from eight publications including the delfi web
portal (the biggest internet news portal in the Baltic States with
upwards of 860,000 users), Lithuanian Radio and Television (national
broadcaster which captures 15% of the television-viewing audience)
and BNS wire service. The Consul provided detailed information on
VWP and ESTA requirements to inform future articles and to combat
misinformation in the press.

-- In May 2008 ConOffs delivered a VWP and ESTA presentation to
members of the American Chamber of Commerce at the Best Western
Hotel in Vilnius. The event was attended by about 50
businesspersons, many of whom have business ties to the U.S. and
travel frequently between Lithuania and the U.S.

-- In September 2008 Post added information to the Embassy website
about the VWP and ESTA including ESTA frequently asked questions

-- On October 1, 2008 the Consular Section staff participated in an
ESTA training session to prepare for ESTA inquiries from the public.
The Consular Section has an email address for consular inquiries.
We receive and respond to a steady volume of ad-hoc email questions
about ESTA. We also assist ESTA applicants by phone.

-- In October 2008 Post added extensive VWP and ESTA content to our
website including the ESTA logo and updated FAQs based on local
inquiries. Since that time we have added weekly updates to our
website with the latest ESTA guidance for new VWP participant

-- In October 2008 PAOff discussed ESTA on a Lithuanian public
television program.

-- On October 11, 2008 the Consul discussed VWP and ESTA at an
American Citizen Town Hall meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius.
Our local AmCit community is very interested in ESTA because many
local Amcits have friends and family members who would like to take
advantage of the VWP.

-- On October 21, 2008 the Embassy sent a Diplomatic Note to the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide an overview of the VWP
program and detailed information about ESTA.

-- On October 21, 2008 - ConOffs sent a Warden Message to 200
American Citizens living in Lithuania regarding VWP and ESTA:

In order to participate in the Visa Waiver Program, Lithuanian
citizens will be required to get authorization online with the
Electronic System for Travel Authorization
Initially, there will be no fee associated with registering. After
completing the registration process, the ESTA system will inform
passengers if they are authorized to travel visa waiver. When a
traveler receives an authorization from ESTA, it is valid for two
years. If authorization is not granted, passengers will be required
to apply for a visa in order to visit the U.S. We recommend that
travelers seek authorization as soon as possible in order to give
them plenty of time to apply for a visa, should their request for
authorization be denied.

-- On October 23, 2008 the Consul made an encore presentation about
VWP and ESTA at an American Chamber of Commerce event "The Influence
of Regional Security to the Business and Economic Environment" which
was held at the Reval Hotel in Vilnius. The event was well attended
by 112 representatives of the Lithuanian business community as well
as government officials including the President of the Republic of
Lithuania Valdas Adamkus.

-- On October 30, 2008 Department of Homeland Security Secretary
Michael Chertoff visited Lithuania. ConOffs organized a press
conference at the Presidential Palace in Vilnius for the Secretary
and the Lithuanian Minister of the Interior Regimantas Ciupaila.
Secretary Chertoff took advantage of the opportunity to promote ESTA
to Lithuanian travelers.

-- On November 4, 2008 ConOffs held a press conference at the U.S.
Embassy in Vilnius to discuss Visa Waiver and ESTA. Eight media
representatives attended the conference including BNS wire service, (webportal), Lithuanian Radio and Television, and
Lietuvos Zinios (newspaper with circulation of 20,000 readers).

-- On November 7, 2008 Ambassador Cloud addressed a group of
Ambassadors representing European Union (EU) member states at the
French Embassy in Vilnius. Ambassador Cloud made brief remarks
about the VWP and ESTA and then responded to questions from the
group including representatives from Austria, France, Greece,
Hungary, and Ireland.

-- On November 10, 2008 Post updated our website to include an
advisory message about fake ESTA websites that was issued by the
Department of Homeland Security. We subsequently communicated this
concern to airlines and travel agents.

-- On November 13, 2008 ConOffs invited airline and travel agency
representatives to the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius for a presentation on
the VWP and ESTA. Twenty-two travel industry representatives
attended the presentation which was followed by a lively question
and answer session. After the meeting ConOffs sent an email to
airline representatives with additional guidance for checking ESTA
approvals at check-in.

-- On November 14, 2008 the Consul gave an interview to Lietuvos
Rytas (newspaper with circulation of 57,000 readers) in which he
highlighted ESTA requirements for VWP travel.

-- On November 14, 2008 PAOff participated in a taped interview in
Lithuanian language for Lithuanian National Radio (250,000
listeners) which was played during prime time on Monday November
17th, the first day of Visa Waiver travel. During the interview
PAOff provided information about ESTA.

-- On November 17, 2008 PAOff gave an interview about the VWP and
ESTA in Russian language for Lithuanian National Radio. This
broadcast has listeners in Lithuania, Belarus and Latvia.

-- On November 17, 2008 Post contacted the Vilnius Airport and
local airlines Fly Lithuanian Airlines (FlyLAL) and Air Baltic to
inquire about the first day of visa waiver travel. All parties
reported that passenger boarding went smoothly.


3. (SBU) Over the course of our ESTA outreach program Post has
identified a number of stumbling blocks in the ESTA process which
have caused some confusion for the Lithuanian end-users and for
ConOffs at Post.

-- Lithuanian language instructions have not yet been added to
ESTA. When an end-user visits the ESTA website, the first question
they see is a drop-down list to select language preference. This
has generated confusion for Lithuanian users because none of the
language options apply to them. Also many of the ESTA questions are
quite technical and it is difficult to understand and respond
appropriately in a second language.

-- Post suggests that DHS consider enhancing ESTA to recognize if a
traveler has a biometric e-passport based on the issue date of the
travel document. For example, all Lithuanian passports issued after
August 28, 2006 meet VWP requirements. If ESTA could decline
authorization based on a non-compliant passport, then we could save
a lot of hassle at the port of entry, lower potential turn-around
costs for the airlines and create added value for the applicant.

-- The ESTA question "Have you ever been denied a U.S. visa or
entry into the U.S. or had a U.S. visa canceled?" is causing
confusion. We have received a number of inquiries from applicants
who wonder if this question includes visas cancelled without
prejudice (a common and innocuous occurrence). It might be more
clear to change the question to "... or had a U.S. visa revoked or
canceled with prejudice."

-- DHS advises travelers to apply for ESTA no less than 72 hours in
advance of intended travel. For cases in which a traveler does not
receive an immediate approval, 72 hours is not enough time to make
alternate arrangements. Post suggests that travelers apply two
weeks in advance of intended travel to allow time for processing of
"pending" authorizations and to allow time for travelers with an
ESTA refusal to apply for a visa at the U.S. Embassy.

-- ESTA questions do not appear to address incidents of unlawful
presence in the U.S. (9B2 refusals). Unlawful presence is one of
the most common hard refusals entered at Post. Even with an ESTA
approval in hand, travelers with an active 9B2 refusal are not
admissible at the port of entry. Post suggests that DHS add
language to ESTA to determine if an alien has ever been present in
the U.S. without legal status in order to avoid turn-around
situations at the port of entry.

-- ESTA refusals appear in the Consular NIV system as a category
one hit. Traditionally Post would not overcome an exact match
category one hit without some type of advisory opinion. Most ESTA
refusals (so far) represent 214B concerns which can be overcome by
an interviewing officer at Post. In one case we had an applicant
who responded "yes" to an ineligibility question in ESTA by mistake.
We believe these cases should also be resolved at Post. We would
appreciate some additional Department guidance on how to process and
overcome category one ESTA refusals at Post.


4. (U) Post will continue ESTA outreach in the coming months. Our
number one concern is that that Lithuanian language to be added to
the site as soon as possible to facilitate applications.


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