What is the Visa Waiver Program?
By Patricia Elizee, Esq.
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows you to enter the United States for temporary tourist or business purposes for up to 90 days without a visa if you meet certain requirements.
The first requirement is that you are a citizen of a visa waiver country. Currently there are 38 countries whose citizens can apply for a tourist visa waiver. The majority of the European countries qualify. Other countries on the list include Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. However, if you have dual nationality from North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria, you will no longer qualify for the visa waiver program. Additionally, if you are a citizen of one of the visa waiver countries and you traveled to North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen or Syria on or after March 1, 2011, you will no longer qualify for the visa waiver program. Some individuals may be exempt from these restrictions due to their diplomatic or military presence in these restricted countries. It is important to note that if you are a traveler from one the visa waiver countries, you always have the option to apply for and receive a tourist visa and that you are not obligated to enter the United States using the Visa Waiver Program.
To travel to the United States using the Visa Waiver Program, you must have authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to boarding the plane to go the United States. ESTA is an online system that is operated by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. Usually, an ESTA approval is valid for two years. Please keep in mind that you must obtain another ESTA approval if you receive a new passport, change your name, change your gender, changed your country of citizenship, or need to change the answers to any of the “yes” and “no” questions on your ESTA application.
You need to have a valid passport that is valid for at least 6 months after your planned trip to the United States. Each person traveling must have their separate passport, including infants. Additionally, the passport must have an e-passport to use.
Having an approved ESTA does NOT guarantee entry to the United States. It only allows you to board the plane to travel to the United States. The CBP officer at the port of entry has the authority to permit or deny admission to the United States. When you enter the United States using the Visa Waiver Program, you will not be able to file for an extension of your stay. You MUST depart the United States on or before the date on your admission stamp. Be mindful that as a Visa Waiver participant you are not permitted to change your status while you are physically in the United States.
Using the Visa Waiver Program has its benefits and disadvantages. Please reach out to our firm if you have any questions or concerns.