• Information Regarding the Visa Waiver Program for Certain Foreign Nationals
  • November 29, 2013 | Author: Ashik R. Jahan
  • Law Firm: Hall Booth Smith, P.C. - Atlanta Office
  • In order to facilitate tourism and short term business visits to the United States, Congress passed legislation in 1986 to create the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP allows citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States without a visa for stays of up to 90 days.

    To be eligible for the VWP, the traveler must:

    1. Be a citizen or national of a VWP-participant country. Currently, the following 37 countries participate in the VWP: Andorra, Hungary, New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, Norway, Austria, Ireland, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, San Marino, Brunei, Japan, Singapore, Czech Republic, Latvia, Slovakia, Denmark, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, South Korea, Finland, Luxembourg, Spain, France, Malta, Sweden, Germany, Monaco, Switzerland, Greece, the Netherlands, Taiwan and the United Kingdom. Eligibility for the visa waiver can be withdrawn at any time due to occurrences which may lead to an increased likeliness of citizens violating the VWP restrictions.

    2. Meet the travel purpose requirements, such as for business, tourism, visiting or pleasure. Likewise, transiting or traveling through the United States to Canada or Mexico is permitted. Generally not allowed under the VWP are travel purposes including studying for credit, employment and permanent residence in the U.S.

    3. Have a machine readable biometric passport and arrive on an approved carrier with a valid return or onward ticket.

    4. Have no visa denials or ineligibilities. If the traveler has previously been denied a visa, or has been found ineligible for a U.S. visa, he or she does not comply with the VWP requirements.


    The next step is to apply for the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). ESTA is the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) automated web-based system to determine the eligibility of travelers without a visa to the United States. The form must be filled out and submitted online on ESTA's webpage http://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/. Thereafter, the traveler is required to pay the associated application fees of currently $ 14 in order to complete the ESTA application.

    The traveler must submit the ESTA form prior to boarding a U.S. bound air or see carrier. It is recommended that travelers submit their application as soon as they begin planning their stay. ESTA requests biographic information as well as answers to VWP eligibility questions regarding communicable diseases, arrests and convictions for certain crimes, etc. This authorization does not define admissibility to the United States. Whether a traveler is finally admissible to the U.S. is solely determined by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers. In the event that an application for travel authorization is denied and the visitor wishes to travel to the U.S. , he or she will have to apply for a visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

    In principle, ESTA travel authorizations are valid for two years or until the traveler's passport expires, whichever occurs first. Within this period of time, the visitor may travel to the U.S. repeatedly without applying for another ESTA authorization.

    No extension or change of status

    It is not possible for the traveler to change his/her status or extend his/her stay in the U.S. beyond the permitted 90 days. Staying longer than the period for which the traveler was granted admission will have negative affects on the traveler's ability to return to the U.S. in the future. If the traveler wishes to change the status to nonimmigrant or immigrant, he or she has to depart the U.S. and apply for the relevant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

    An exception is if the traveler enters into a bonafide and true marriage to a U.S. citizen during his or her stay in the U.S. In such a scenario, it may be possible to adjust the status to that of a permanent resident without having to leave the U.S. However, it is illegal to enter the U.S. as a visitor with the secret intention of marrying and residing there. This action may be considered as immigration fraud which leads to serious penalties such as fines of up to $ 10,000 and imprisonment up to 5 years. The stated exception only applies to cases in which the traveler enters the U.S. legitimately as a visitor, without the intention of marrying.


    By introducing the VWP, the U.S. facilitates traveling to the U.S. for millions of visitors from all over the world. Furthermore, U.S. American travelers benefit from the Visa Waiver Program, as all the participating countries provide reciprocal visa-free travel for U.S. citizens.