To enter the U.S., you will first need a suitable visa, that should be suitable for your immigration intents. For example, if you wish to work in the country, you may be eligible for an Extraordinary Ability Green Card.

However, nationals from certain countries can spend up to 90 days in the U.S. without applying for a permit.

This is known as the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), and it is open for the citizen of 38 countries. In return, these states allow U.S. nationals to enter their territories without a visa for a similar length of time.

What is the Visa Waiver Program?

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is an international program administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the U.S. for tourism or business purposes for up to 90 days without the need of getting a visa.

To be eligible, travelers must hold a valid ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) and meet all the requirements set by the law.

It is worth mentioning that although it is a valid immigrant status, the VWP does not consist of a visa printed to your passport.

What are the eligible Visa Waiver Program Countries?

The U.S. Visa Waiver Program is only available for the citizens of the following countries:

Andorra Hungary Norway
Australia Iceland Portugal
Austria Ireland San Marino
Belgium Italy Singapore
Brunei Japan Slovakia
Chile Latvia Slovenia
Czech Republic Liechtenstein South Korea
Denmark Lithuania Spain
Estonia Luxembourg Sweden
Finland Malta Switzerland
France Monaco Taiwan
Germany Netherlands United Kingdom
Greece New Zealand  

If you are not a citizen of one of the Visa Waiver Program Countries, you can still enter the U.S. on a different immigrant or nonimmigrant visa. For example, you can apply for a B2 Visa for tourists.

What are the Visa Waiver Program requirements?

Only eligible aliens can enter the U.S. without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program. To qualify, you must meet all the following requirements:

  • Be a citizen of one of the 38 designed countries. Permanent residents do not qualify for the VWP;
  • Have nonimmigrant purposes. This means that you must prove your intent to go back to your country within 90 days from the date of your entry in the U.S.;
  • Have a return trip ticket to any foreign destination outside the U.S.;
  • Hold a passport that is valid for six months after the date you intend to cross the border. Please, note that you can travel under the VWP only if you have an e-passport. This is an enhanced, secure traveling document with an embedded electronic chip. You can identify an e-passport by the golden symbol on its cover;
  • Have a valid ESTA, authorized before your entry in the U.S. The ESTA is a web-based security system operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It is valid for two years, but if you receive a new passport or change any of your personal details, you must obtain a new one;
  • File a Form I-94W (Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival-Departure Record);
  • Have business or travel intents. If you wish to work, study or settle in the country, you must instead apply for a different visa;
  • Not hold any criminal record that can make you ineligible for entering the U.S.;
  • Not have been refused admission to the U.S. before.

It must be noted that holding an approved ESTA lets you officially request permission to travel to the U.S., but it does not automatically guarantee your entry. You must meet all the VWP requirements to receive approval from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

us visa waiver program

What is ESTA?

ESTA is the acronym of Electronic System for Travel Authorization. It is an automated system used to determine the eligibility of aliens who wish to travel to the U.S.

However, receiving authorization via ESTA alone does not affect your eligibility to enter the U.S. In other words, the Border Protection officers have the power to either approve or reject your entry request.

If you need an ESTA authorization to enter the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program, you should submit your application as soon as possible. ESTA applications are usually processed within a few days, but once you get it, you will be able to begin planning your travel, and it will last for two years.

As of December 2018, qualifying travelers are required to apply for ESTA no later than 72 hours before their intended departure for the U.S.

What are the benefits of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)?

Through the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, eligible foreign nationals can freely enter the U.S. without obtaining a visa. The key advantage is that the U.S. and the other countries that participate in this program can benefit from the free movement of persons.

On the other hand, the VWP cannot be used to remain in the U.S. for more than 90 days. Furthermore, you are not allowed to change or extend your nonimmigrant status while in the country. Besides, if you are denied admission at the port of entry, you have no right to appeal.

What happens if I overstay my Visa Waiver Program?

Life all other aliens entering the U.S., Visa Waiver entrants cannot spend more than a fixed amount of time in the country. The maximum stay allowed by the U.S. VWP is 90 days. It is not possible to extend this status.

If you overstay your authorized stay, you can face a removal process, and you are likely to be deported. In addition, your passport will receive a ban, meaning that you may not be able to travel freely to other foreign countries. You will be also banned from entering the U.S. for three years (if you overstayed your ESTA by less than one year) or ten years (if your period of overstay lasted longer). When your ban finishes, you can still face difficulties when applying for other U.S. visas.

There are a few exceptional circumstances that do not count as “unlawful presences” in the U.S. after the 90-day period. This includes:

  • Minors under the age of 18 who are not accompanied by an adult;
  • Asylum seekers whose application is pending;
  • Victims of trafficking;
  • People who have received temporary protected status.

What services does IAS offer?

The Visa Waiver Program is one of the simplest ways to enter the U.S. for qualified applicants. However, being eligible for the VWP does not mean that you can automatically travel to the U.S.

First, you need to meet several requirements. Most importantly, you must hold a valid e-passport and an ESTA authorization.

To save time and plan your trip to the U.S. stressful, you can get in touch with one of IAS’ immigration attorneys.

We can:

  • Assess your eligibility for the U.S. Visa Waiver Program based on your country of origin and current citizenship;
  • Check if your e-passport meets the VWP requirements;
  • Help you file your Form I-94W;
  • Explore all your best options to enter the U.S. depending on your purposes.

Get in touch today to learn more about our services. You can call us on +1844 290 6312 our inquiry online.

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