Australia, like most of Western Europe and a few other countries, is on America’s “visa waiver” programme, which lets people travel to the USA for up to 90 days at a time without first applying for a visa, although the US can still deny entry to anybody that doesn’t answer the immigration official’s questions to their satisfaction.
By comparison, Australia requires that all visitors from everywhere except New Zealand have a visa. It’s a staggeringly simple and not overly expensive process that can happen online, but it’s a visa-requirement nonetheless.
It looks like the US is moving to an Australian-style system. They’re still calling it a “visa waiver,” but the requirement that I register before entering the US and that they reserve the right to deny my registration seems a lot like a visa to me. From the article:
Passengers travelling to the United States from countries whose citizens do not need visas must register online with the US government at least 72 hours before departure [from January 2009]
Although the new rule requires 72 hours advance registration, it will be valid for multiple entries over a two-year period. The rule will only apply to citizens of the 27 visa waiver programme countries
A Homeland Security official said the new measure would require the same information that passengers now have to include on the I-94 immigration form they must fill out before entering the US. He said Australia has been using a similar system for several years.
Presumably this means that the US will be more likely to start adding the newer members of the EU to the “visa waiver” programme.