America may be the land of the free, but for three dozen countries, it’s no longer free to visit here.
Beginning today, travelers from 36 countries must now pay a $14 fee in order to enter the country. The fee, which was approved by Congress in March, affects countries like Britain, France and Australia who, are not required to apply and pay for a visa to visit the U.S.
“The travelers will pay $14 to register through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, or ESTA, required for those using the Visa Waiver Program,” CNN reports. “Four of the $14 will cover ESTA operating costs, and $10 will go toward promoting the United States as a tourist destination.”
It’s the latter point that may seem to be the most counter-intuitive. After all, how exactly do we promote tourism to the U.S. by imposing a new fee on countries?
According to Bloomberg, the plan is to take the money raised from the fee, which is estimated to be more than $100 million, and use it to pay for ads and media events directed toward foreign travelers.However, the downside here seems fairly obvious. We are essentially penalizing many of the countries that are our closest allies and friends –ones like Britain who don’t require visas to come here –hoping that in the process, they will somehow feel more inclined to visit.
As John Bruton, the European Commission’s ambassador to the U.S., told The Telegraph, “Only in Alice in Wonderland could a penalty be seen as promoting the activity on which it is imposed.”
Let’s hope each of these 36 countries don’t turn around and charge us a comparable fee, or else that European backpacking trip you've been planning might really break the bank.
Still, if nothing else, we will get the answer to one age old question: Is America really worth $14?