Visa Waiver Program

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The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is a program of the United States Government which allows citizens of specific countries to travel to the United States for tourism, business, or while in transit for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa. The program applies to the 50 U.S. states as well as the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, with limited application to other U.S. territories.

All of the countries selected by the U.S. government to be in the program are high-income economies with a very high Human Development Index and most of them are generally regarded as developed countries.

Eligible countries[edit]

  The United States and its territories
  Visa free countries
  Visa Waiver Program countries

To be eligible for a visa waiver under the VWP, the traveler seeking admission to the United States must be a citizen of a country that has been designated by the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, as a "program country". Permanent residents of designated countries who are not citizens of a designated country do not qualify for a visa waiver. The criteria for designation as program countries are specified in Section 217 (c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (Title 8 U.S.C. § 1187).[1] The criteria stress passport security and a very low nonimmigrant visa refusal rate: not more than 3% as specified in Section 217 (c)(2)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as well as ongoing compliance with the immigration law of the United States.

Eligibility for the visa waiver may be withdrawn at any time. Usually this may happen if the United States feels that citizens of a certain country are more likely than before to violate their VWP restrictions, such as working without a permit or overstaying their allowed period of stay in the United States. Accordingly, Argentina's participation in the VWP was terminated in 2002 in light of the financial crisis taking place in that country and its potential effect on mass emigration and unlawful overstay of its citizens in the United States by way of the VWP. Uruguay's participation in the program was revoked in 2003 for similar reasons. While a country's political and economic standing does not directly determine its eligibility, it is widely believed that citizens of politically stable and economically developed nations would not have much incentive to illegally seek employment and violate their visa while in the U.S., risks that the consul seriously considers in approving or denying a visa.

Citizens of 38 countries are eligible for visa-free entry into the United States under the VWP: State Department Visa Waiver Country List[2] and DHS country list.[3][4]

Nominated and roadmap countries[edit]

Countries nominated for status in the Visa Waiver Program are in between "road map" status and eligibility to participate. Nomination kicks off a detailed evaluation by the United States Department of Homeland Security of the nominated country's homeland security and immigration practices. There is no established timeline for how long a country may remain on the nominated list before either being approved or rejected from the program.

Since 2005, the U.S. Department of State has been conducting discussions with countries known as "road map countries," which are interested in joining (or rejoining) the VWP.[27] These countries are:

Adjusted Visa Refusal Rate[edit]

The Adjusted Refusal Rate is based on the refusal rate of B visa applications. B visas are adjudicated based on applicant interviews; the interviews generally last between 60 and 90 seconds.[32] Due to time constraints, adjudicators profile applicants.[32] Certain demographics, such as young adults, those who are single and/or unemployed, almost never receive visas.[32] Adjudicators are evaluated on how fast they carry out interviews, not the quality of adjudication decisions.[33] The validity of B visa decisions is not evaluated.[33]

To qualify for the Visa Waiver Program, a country must have had a nonimmigrant refusal rate of less than 3% for the previous year or an average of no more than 2% over the past two fiscal years with neither year going above 2.5%.[34] In addition, the country must provide visa-free access to United States citizens (Argentina currently charges $160 to U.S. citizens to enter), and until May 16, 2013, also had to be either an independent country or a dependency of a VWP country (which had barred Hong Kong and Macau).

The Adjusted Visa Refusal Rate for fiscal year 2013 for B visas were (eligible countries in bold and linked):[35]

Country Rate
Afghanistan 62.7%
Albania 40.4%
Algeria 28.3%
Angola 24.8%
Antigua and Barbuda 18.1%
 Argentina 1.7%
Armenia 37.9%
Azerbaijan 9.4%
Bahrain 4.1%
Bangladesh 43.5%
Barbados 9.9%
Belarus 20.7%
Belize 19.7%
Benin 34.6%
Bhutan 42.0%
Bosnia-Herzegovina 26.5%
Botswana 17.3%
Brazil 3.5%
Brunei 20.7%
Bulgaria 19.9%
Burkina Faso 31.7%
Burma 23.5%
Burundi 52.7%
Cambodia 33.9%
Cameroon 28.9%
Cape Verde 36.4%
Central African Republic 46.4%
Chad 36.3%
China 8.5%
Colombia 10.4%
Comoros 32.6%
Congo (Brazzaville) 27.5%
Congo (Kinshasa) 41.9%
Costa Rica 13.7%
Côte d'Ivoire 30.3%
Croatia 5.9%
Cuba 61.6%
Cyprus 4%
Djibouti 62.6%
Dominica 30.2%
Dominican Republic 41.3%
Ecuador 16.9%
Egypt 39.5%
El Salvador 45.1%
Equatorial Guinea 16.2%
Eritrea 40.5%
Ethiopia 35.6%
Fiji 27.2%
Gabon 20.3%
Georgia 38.3%
Ghana 61.8%
Grenada 25.8%
Guatemala 30.9%
Guinea 52.5%
Guinea - Bissau 43.6%
Guyana 52.7%
Haiti 47.1%
Honduras 37.0%
 Hong Kong 1.8%
India 18.7%
Indonesia 8%
Iran 48.2%
Israel 9.7%
Jamaica 35.3%
Jordan 32.6%
Kazakhstan 8.0%
Kenya 28.3%
Kiribati 27.3%
Kosovo 40%
Kuwait 10.3%
Kyrgyzstan 24.9%
Laos 61.4%
Lebanon 15.1%
Lesotho 19.4%
Liberia 59.0%
Libya 33.8%
Macau 3.1%
Macedonia 27.0%
Madagascar 9.3%
Malaysia 5.0%
Maldives 22.9%
Mali 47.7%
Mauritania 50.0%
Mauritius 4.7%
Mexico 12.1%
Moldova 33.6%
Mongolia 30.6%
Montenegro 32.6%
Morocco 23.3%
 Mozambique 2.2%
Namibia 6.2%
 Nauru 0.0%
Nepal 46.4%
Nicaragua 26.7%
Niger 27.5%
Nigeria 35.1%
 Oman 2.3%
Pakistan 38.5%
Palestinian Authority 37.6%
Panama 8.0%
Papua New Guinea 3.1%
Paraguay 4.4%
Peoples Republic Of Korea 28.6%
Peru 16.1%
Philippines 24.1%
Poland 10.8%
 Qatar 1.8%
Romania 11.5%
Russia 10.2%
Rwanda 44.9%
Samoa 22.1%
Sao Tome And Principe 22.2%
Saudi Arabia 7.8%
Senegal 53.2%
Serbia 14.7%
Seychelles 4.3%
Sierra Leone 46.5%
Solomon Islands 12.7%
Somalia 75.8%
 South Africa 2.6%
South Sudan 41.9%
Sri Lanka 20.6%
St. Kitts And Nevis 30.7%
St. Lucia 22.5%
St. Vincent And The Grenadines 22.5%
Sudan 47.9%
Suriname 9.6%
Swaziland 4.5%
Syria 46.1%
Tajikistan 53.7%
Tanzania 25.7%
Thailand 11.1%
The Bahamas 11.6%
The Gambia 74.5%
Timor-Leste 5.6%
Togo 44.0%
Tonga 42.1%
Trinidad And Tobago 20.6%
Tunisia 17.0%
Turkey 10.3%
Turkmenistan 16.3%
Tuvalu 71.4%
Uganda 32.7%
Ukraine 26.7%
United Arab Emirates 8.0%
 Uruguay 2.8%
Uzbekistan 44.3%
Vanuatu 14.9%
Vatican City 33.3%
Venezuela 13.8%
Vietnam 20.3%
Yemen 44.0%
Zambia 26.2%
Zimbabwe 19.7%

Recent events of the program[edit]

After the expansion of the European Union in 2004, both the newly admitted countries and EU agencies began intensive lobbying efforts to include those new countries in the VWP. The U.S. Government initially responded to those efforts by developing bilateral strategies with 19 candidate countries known as the Visa Waiver Roadmap process.[36][37] The U.S. Government began to accept the possibility of departing from the original country designation criteria - which had been contained within immigration law per se - and to expand them by adding political criteria, with the latter being able to override the former. This development began first with Bill S.2844[38] which explicitly named Poland as the only country to be added to the VWP, and continued as an amendment to the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 (S.2611), whose Sec. 413, Visa Waiver Program Expansion,[39] defined broader criteria that would apply to any EU country that provided "material support" to the multinational forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the definition of that "material support" would be met again only by Poland and Romania, a fact that was not favorably received by the other EU candidate countries. Ironically, Poland remains the only Central European country that is not a participating nation in the VWP as of 2010, due to a visa refusal rate above the critical threshold of 3%.

A June 2007 Hudson Institute Panel stressed the urgency of the inclusion of Central Europe in the VWP: "An inexplicable policy that is causing inestimable damage to the United States with its new Central and Eastern European NATO allies is the region’s exclusion from the visa waiver program. As Helle Dale wrote in the spring issue of European Affairs: “Meanwhile the problem is fueling anti-U.S. antagonisms and a perception of capricious discrimination by U.S. bureaucrats ---and damping the visits to the U.S. of people from countries with whom Washington would like to improve commercial and intellectual ties. Meanwhile horror stories abound from friends and diplomats from Central and Eastern Europe about the problems besetting foreigners seeking to visit the United States. In fact bringing up the subject of visas with any resident of those countries is like waving a red flag before a bull.” Visa waiver must be satisfactorily addressed and resolved at long last."[40]

During his visit to Estonia in November 2006, President Bush announced his intention "to work with our Congress and our international partners to modify our visa waiver program". In 2006, the Secure Travel and Counterterrorism Partnership Bill was introduced in the Senate but no action was taken and that bill, as well as a similar one introduced in the House the following year, died after two years of inactivity.[41] The bill would have directed the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish a pilot program to expand the visa waiver program for up to five new countries that are cooperating with the United States on security and counterterrorism matters.[citation needed] The bill would have changed the nonimmigrant visa refusal rate threshold - from 3% - to 10%, thus making (as of 2010) 28 countries[42] qualify for inclusion in the visa-waiver program: Argentina, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Croatia, Cyprus, Hong Kong (HKSAR passport and British National (Overseas) passport), Israel, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Poland, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Taiwan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Uruguay. Note that Cyprus, Malta, Timor Leste, and Vatican City, had already (in 2006) refusal rates less than the original 3%, but were not included in the VWP countries (whereas a year later, some additional countries had this original low level: Cyprus and Taiwan). However, for continued participation, DHS re-evaluates participating countries every two years, as required by Congress. Through this process, two countries, Argentina and Uruguay, now are no longer eligible to participate. Current members will have to fulfill any new requirements to continue their eligibility for membership in the program. The European Union is currently planning to negotiate for participation of all of its members in the Visa Waiver Program.[43]

In October 2008, President Bush announced that the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and South Korea would be added to the program on November 17.[44] "It is a removal of the last relic of Communism and the Cold War", said Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek.[45]

On December 22, 2008, in a joint press conference at Auberge de Castille, Maltese Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and U.S. Ambassador Molly Bordonaro announced that Malta would join the program with effect from 30 December 2008.[46]

In January 2009 the first Assistant Secretary (acting as Under Secretary-equivalent) for Policy at the United States Department of Homeland Security Stewart Baker announced that Croatia is expected to join the Visa Waiver program by 2011.[47]

On June 17, 2008, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff signed an interim agreement under the Visa Waiver Program, the press service of the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.[48]

Greece officially joined the program on April 5, 2010.[49][50]

President Obama promised that Poland would be added to the program, in a meeting with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski in December 2010; however no date has been set for when Poland will be added.[51]

On October 2, 2012, Secretary Napolitano announced the inclusion of Taiwan into the program effectively as of November 1, 2012.[52] Only Taiwanese nationals with a valid passport and National Identification Number can apply for ESTA online to benefit from the country's newly acquired visa-free status.

In 2013 there was conflict over the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013 whose Senate version specifies that satisfaction of the requirements regarding reciprocal travel privileges for U.S. citizens would be subject to security concerns.[53] Many members of the House of Representatives oppose the security language because it seems to validate Israel’s tendency to turn away Arab Americans without giving any reason. None of the other 37 countries in the visa waiver program has such an exemption.[54]

The only European microstate that is not a member of the program is the Vatican City.

The visa refusal rate for Hong Kong has dropped to 1.7% for HKSAR passport and 2.6% for British National (Overseas) passport as of 2012.[55] Hong Kong meets all VWP criteria but does not qualify at the time because it is not legally a separate country, despite having its own passports and independent judicial system, monetary system and immigration control. On May 16, 2013, a bipartisan amendment bill was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee clearing the way for Hong Kong to join the VWP in the near future.[56]

History[edit]

Congress passed legislation in 1986 to create the Visa Waiver Program with the aim of facilitating tourism and short-term business visits to the United States, and allowing the United States Department of State to focus consular resources on addressing higher risks. The United Kingdom became the first country to participate in the Visa Waiver Program in July 1988, followed by Japan on 16 December 1988.[57] In October 1989, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and West Germany were added to the VWP.

In 1991, more European countries joined the Program - Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Norway, San Marino and Spain - as well as New Zealand (the first country from Oceania). In 1993, Brunei became the second Asian country to be admitted to the Program.[58]

On 1 April 1995, Ireland was added to the VWP. In 1996, Australia and Argentina (the first Latin American country) joined, although Argentina was later removed in 2002. On 30 September 1997, Slovenia was added. On 9 August 1999, Portugal, Singapore and Uruguay joined the program, although Uruguay was subsequently removed in 2003.[59]

Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the George W. Bush administration decided to tighten entry requirements into the United States, as a result of which legislation was passed requiring foreign visitors entering under the Visa Waiver Program to present a machine-readable passport upon arrival starting from 1 October 2003. However, as a number of VWP still issued non-machine readable passports (for example, more than a third of French and Spanish passport holders held a non-machine readable version), the implementation of the new rule was postponed to 26 October 2004, with the exception of Belgian citizens, as there were concerns about the security and integrity of Belgian passports.[60]

The US government originally planned to require all visitors to the US under the Visa Waiver Program to hold a biometric passport starting from 26 October 2004 if their passport was issued on or after that date. However, after the requirement to have a machine-readable passport was postponed to 26 October 2004, the biometric passport requirement subsequently had its implementation date moved to 26 October 2005, only to be further postponed by another year to 26 October 2006 at the request of the European Union, which raised concerns about the number of participating countries which would have been able to make the deadline.[61]

Starting on 26 October 2006, travellers entering the US under the Visa Waiver Program are required to present a biometric passport if their passport was issued on or after that date. When the new rule came into force on that day, three countries (Andorra, Brunei and Liechtenstein) had not yet started issuing biometric passports.[62]

In November 2006, the US government announced that plans for an "Electronic Travel Authorization" program (officially named "Electronic System for Travel Authorization") would be developed so that VWP travelers can give advance information on their travels to the United States. In return, they will be given authorization electronically to travel to the United States, although it does not guarantee admission to the United States. This program is modeled on the Electronic Travel Authority scheme that has been used in Australia for many years.[63]

While all participating nations must provide reciprocal visa-free travel for U.S. citizens (usually ninety days for tourism or business purposes), Australia is the only nation that requires U.S. citizens[64] to apply for an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA), which in fact is a visa that is stored electronically in a computer system operated by the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC). The ETA has replaced visa-free travel to Australia, and the only nation accorded visa-free travel rights to Australia is New Zealand under the auspices of the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement (rather than not requiring a visa, NZ citizens are accorded one automatically upon arrival). A passport holder must apply for and purchase an ETA through an authorized travel agency, airline, or via the official DIAC website[65] before departing for Australia. However, as the ETA process is relatively free of formality, the United States recognizes it as the equivalent of visa-free travel. Citizens of the European Union and other European nations must apply for an eVisitor electronic travel authorization for travel to Australia, which is similar to the ETA program, but free.[66] Australian government policy in this respect is similar to U.S. policy, which similarly requires Visa Waiver Program participants to apply for an ESTA.

Guam and Northern Mariana Islands Visa Waiver Program[edit]

In the neighboring U.S. territories of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), both located in the western Pacific Ocean, the U.S. federal government has implemented a specific Guam-Northern Mariana Islands Visa Waiver Program. As insular areas of the United States, entry requirements for these territories are the same as any other U.S. destination. However, under this program, first enacted in October 1988 and periodically amended, nationals from several additional countries[67] in Asia and the Pacific islands are permitted to enter the Northern Marianas and Guam as tourists without a visa for up to 45 days (as of November 28, 2009).[68] Travel is not permitted onwards to the mainland United States,[67] and because of special visa categories for the CNMI foreign workers, traveling between Guam and the CNMI still requires a full immigration inspection.

In addition to citizens from the 38 nations designated for the federal VWP, citizens of the following countries in possession of a machine-readable passport and with completed Form I-736 (Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Information form) and Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Record) may enter Guam and the CNMI visa-free for up to 45 days under the specific waiver program applying to the two U.S. territories:[69]

Despite not being included in the new Guam-CNMI visa waiver program, as part of a parole arrangement, Russian citizens in possession of a machine-readable passport, a completed Form I-736 (Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Information form) and Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Record) and a non-refundable and non-transferable return ticket can visit both Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands visa-free for up to 45 days.[71]

Also, as part of another parole arrangement, Chinese citizens in possession of a machine-readable passport, completed Form I-736 (Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Information form) and Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Record) may enter the CNMI only visa-free for up to 45 days (travel to Guam still requires applying for a visa in advance).[72]

Key differences between the Visa Waiver Program and the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program is that all travelers under VWP need ESTA, but those travelers eligible for the Guam-CNMI VWP do not need ESTA (the 12 countries: Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Nauru, South Korea, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Taiwan, Japan, Papua New Guinea, United Kingdom).[73][74]

The Northern Mariana Islands had previously been a separate jurisdiction from the United States in terms of immigration control. Under a federalization law passed by the U.S. Congress in 2008, the Northern Marianas' immigration functions were taken over by United States Department of Homeland Security agencies on November 28, 2009. The present Guam-Northern Mariana Islands Visa Waiver Program took effect at that time, replacing previous Northern Marianas' legislation governing entry to the islands and also replacing a previous Guam-specific Visa Waiver Program. That program had included the aforementioned countries as well as Indonesia, Samoa, Vanuatu, and the Soloman Islands, though these countries were removed from the list of eligible nations for the new program.[68][75]

In the past, the government of the Northern Mariana Islands had issued Visitor Entry Permits (VEP) instead of visas. Citizens of all countries in the federal visa waiver program were exempt from the VEP requirement, as were citizens of Taiwan and holders of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passports and British National (Overseas) passports.[76][77][78] Under the islands' previous immigration policy, citizens of the following countries or jurisdictions were prohibited from entering the CNMI: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Fujian Province of China, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Myanmar, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.[79]

Entry into American Samoa[edit]

The U.S. territory of American Samoa, located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, remains outside the standard immigration jurisdiction of the U.S. federal government. The territory's government regulates entry into the territory, permitting tourists to visit for up to 30 days, with an option to extend their stay for an additional 30 days, with approval from the territory's Attorney General. All visitors from outside the islands, including United States citizens, are required to possess a valid passport and proof of onward travel; U.S. citizens may substitute a passport with an authentic birth certificate verifying their nationality. Persons wishing to stay or work in the islands must receive approval from the Office of the Attorney General.

Currently, the territory's government allows visa-free tourist entry to U.S. citizens and citizens of countries in the federal Visa Waiver Program as well as citizens of Canada and the Pacific island nations of Palau, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia. Upon arrival, nationals of other countries are issued entry permits which are valid only for visiting American Samoa.[80]

Requirements for the visa waiver program[edit]

The requirements for the visa waiver program are as follows:

Machine readable and biometric passports[edit]

All travelers must have individual passports. It is not acceptable (for the visa waiver scheme) for children to be included on a parent's passport.

Passport requirements (for citizens of VWP pre-2008 members only) depend on the date the passport was issued:

  • Passports issued before 26 October 2005 must be machine readable.
  • Passports issued between 26 October 2005 and 25 October 2006 must be machine readable and contain a digitized photograph.
  • Passports issued on or after 26 October 2006 must be biometric—that is, an 'e-passport,' containing an electronic chip with biographic and biometric information. An e-passport is mandatory for Visa Waiver travel on a passport from one of the most recently added VWP countries, to wit: Chile, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovak Republic, and South Korea.[81]

Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)[edit]

All incoming passengers who intend to take advantage of the Visa Waiver Program are required to complete the I-94W form online before departure to the United States, but preferably at least 72 hours (3 days) in advance. This new requirement was announced on June 3, 2008 and is intended to bolster U.S. security by pre-screening participating VWP passengers against terrorist and/or no-fly lists and databases.[82] The electronic authorization, which is valid for a two-year period,[83] mirrors Australia's Electronic Travel Authority system. The authorization is mandatory for participating VWP citizens before boarding flights destined to the United States, but as with formal visas this does not guarantee admission into the United States since final admission eligibility is determined at U.S. ports of entry by CBP officers.

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's ESTA fact sheet:

An approved ESTA travel authorization is:

• valid for up to two years or until the traveler’s passport expires, whichever comes first;
• valid for multiple entries into the U.S.; and
• not a guarantee of admissibility to the United States at a port of entry. ESTA approval only authorizes a traveler to board a carrier for travel to the U.S. under the VWP. In all cases, CBP officers make admissibility determinations at our ports of entry. (For additional information, please visit “Know Before You Go” at www.cbp.gov/travel.)

Currently all travelers from VWP countries are required to obtain an ESTA approval prior to boarding a carrier to travel by air or sea to the United States under the VWP.[84]

Passport validity[edit]

The standard requirement for passport validity is 6 months beyond the expected date of departure from the United States. However, the US has signed agreements with a number of countries to waive this requirement.[85]

Return or onward ticket[edit]

If entering the United States by air or sea, additional requirements apply. The traveler must:

  • Be traveling on a participating commercial carrier and;
  • Be holding a valid return or onward ticket. Where the ticket terminates in Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or an island in the Caribbean, the traveler must be a legal resident of that country or territory.

Other eligibility requirements[edit]

Applicants for admission under the visa waiver program:

  • Must have complied with the conditions of all previous admissions to the United States.;
  • Must never have been convicted of, or arrested for, an offense or crime involving moral turpitude (there is an exemption in some cases for a single offence committed before age 18 and the crime was committed (and the alien released from any confinement to a prison or correctional institution imposed for the crime) more than five years before the date of application for a visa, and also for a single instance if the maximum possible sentence in the U.S. is one year or less in jail, and less than six months was served. However these exceptions cannot be applied by the individual as the question on ESTA is specific) or a "controlled substance," or (two or more) crimes with a maximum aggregate sentence of five years' imprisonment or more, no matter how long ago. National regulations which normally expunge criminal records after a certain length of time (e.g. the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 in the UK) do not apply.
  • Must not be otherwise inadmissible to the United States, such as on health or national security grounds;
  • Must be intending to visit the United States for a purpose of transit, tourism, or a short term business visit. Journalists and their accompanying staff cannot use the visa waiver scheme to file and work on news reports for their news organisations from the United States and must instead apply for an I visa.
  • Starting from 8 September 2010, a fee of USD $14 is collected. This is payable by credit/debit cards online only, in advance of travel.

Those who do not meet the requirements for the visa-waiver scheme must obtain a U.S. tourist visa from an American embassy or consulate.

Having been arrested or convicted does not in itself make a person ineligible to use the visa waiver scheme. You are only ineligible if you do not meet the requirements of the scheme. However, some U.S. embassies advise such persons to apply for a tourist visa even though there is no legal obligation for the individual to do so. There is no right of appeal if an immigration officer decides to refuse entry, unless you hold a visa when an appeal can be made to an immigration judge.

Those previously refused entry to the United States are not automatically ineligible for the visa waiver program, but unless the reason for refusal is addressed, it is likely to reoccur. Hence again, many embassies advise such persons to apply for a tourist visa.

Visa Waiver Program restrictions[edit]

A person entering the United States under the VWP cannot request an extension of the original allowed period of stay in the U.S. (this practice is allowed to those holding regular visas). However, VWP visitors may seek to adjust status on the basis of either (1) marriage to a US citizen or (2) an application for asylum.[86] U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers determine admissibility upon traveler's arrival. If one seeks to enter the U.S. under the VWP and is denied entry by a CBP officer at a port of entry, no path of appealing or review of the denial of entry is allowed. VWP including ESTA does not guarantee entry to the United States. CBP officers make the final determination of entry to the United States.

Travelers can leave to contiguous countries (Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean), but will not be granted another 90 days after reentry in the United States.[87]

There are restrictions on the type of employment-related activities allowed. Meetings and conferences in relation to the alien's profession/line of business/employer in their home country, are generally acceptable, but most forms of "gainful employment" are not. There are however poorly-classifiable exceptions such as persons performing professional services in the US for a non US employer, and persons installing, servicing and repairing commercial or industrial equipment or machinery pursuant to a contract of sale.[88] Performers (such as actors and musicians) who plan on performing live or taping scenes for productions back home, as well as athletes participating in an athletic event are likewise not allowed to use the VWP for their respective engagements and are instead required to have an O or P visa prior to arrival. Foreign media representatives and journalists on assignment are required to have a nonimmigrant media (I) visa.[89]

Applicant should display social and economic ties which bind them to their country of origin or may be refused entry.[90]

Citizens of foreign contiguous territories and adjacent islands[edit]

Separate from the Visa Waiver Program, 8 U.S.C. § 1182(d)(4)(B) permits the Attorney General and the Secretary of State (acting jointly) to waive visa requirements for admission to the United States in nonimmigrant status for nationals of foreign contiguous territories or adjacent islands or for residents of those territories or islands who have a common nationality with those nationals. The regulations relating to such admissions can be found at 8 C.F.R. 212.1.[91]

Until 2003, this visa waiver was granted not only to citizens of those countries and territories, but to permanent residents of Bermuda and Canada who were citizens of Commonwealth of Nations countries or of Ireland. In 2003, the Immigration and Naturalization Service announced that it would be terminating the visa waiver for non-citizen permanent residents of Bermuda and Canada; thenceforth, those Canadian & Bermudian permanent residents who were citizens of a Visa Waiver Program country could enjoy visa-free entry to the United States under that program, while citizens of other countries would be required to possess a valid advance visa for entry to the United States.[91]

Citizens of the Bahamas[edit]

Bahamian citizens do not require a visa to enter the United States if they apply for entry at one of the Preclearance Facilities located in Nassau or Freeport International Airports. Bahamian citizens must not have had a criminal conviction or ineligibility, violated U.S. immigration laws in the past and must be in possession of valid, unexpired passport or a Bahamian Travel Document indicating that they have Bahamian citizenship. In addition to a passport, all applicants 14 years of age or older must present a police certificate issued by the Royal Bahamas Police Force within the past six months. All Bahamians applying for admission at a port-of-entry other than the Preclearance Facilities located in Nassau or Freeport International Airports are required to be in possession of a valid visa to enter the United States.[92]

Citizens of Canada[edit]

Canadian citizens do not require a non-immigrant visa when entering the United States, except those Canadians that fall under nonimmigrant visa categories E, K, S, or V,[93][94] but under different legislation from the Visa Waiver program.[95] This does not preclude them from meeting the requirements of the appropriate status they wish to enter in, for example, while a Canadian does not require a F-1 visa to study in the U.S., they are still required to be in F-1 status, not requiring a visa simply allows a Canadian to obtain the status at the Port of Entry.[96]

Citizens of Canada who enter as visitors are exempted from being fingerprinted or photographed under US-VISIT and do not require a machine readable passport. Canadian visitors are also not issued an I-94, and US Customs and Border Protection decide whether to allow entry based on non-immigrant intent. The maximum permitted length of stay is one year but can be extended,[97] although CBP usually consider six months to be the maximum permitted per calendar year, except under unusual circumstances (such as medical treatment).

Before 23 January 2007, citizens of Canada, (provided they held valid photo identification) were able to enter the United States with only a birth certificate as proof of citizenship and were not required to show a passport. Citizens of other parts of North America, such as Mexico or Bermuda have always been subject to holding a valid Visa stamp or a border crossing card along with their passports. On 23 January 2007, Canadian and U.S. citizens were required to have passports when entering the U.S. by air only.

As of 1 June 2009, Canadian and U.S. citizens are required to present either a valid passport, a NEXUS card, a Free and Secure Trade card (FAST) or an enhanced driver's licence/enhanced identification card when entering the United States by land or water. Canadians entering the U.S. by air are still required to present a valid passport or NEXUS card. A NEXUS card can only be used at designated U.S. and Canadian airports with NEXUS card kiosks. Children under 16, or under 19 while traveling with a school group need to only present a birth certificate or other similar proof of citizenship when entering the U.S. from Canada by land or water.[98][99]

Certain British Overseas Territories Citizens[edit]

Bermuda[edit]

British Overseas Territories citizens by virtue of their connection to Bermuda can enter the United States visa-free provided they are bona-fide visitors - no I-94 is required.[100] To qualify, they must not have had a criminal conviction or ineligibility, violated U.S. immigration laws in the past and must not be arriving the United States from outside the Western Hemisphere. In addition, they must present a Bermudian passport which fulfils the following criteria:

  • The front cover has printed on it "Government of Bermuda"
  • The holder's nationality must be stated as either "British Overseas Territory Citizen" or "British Dependant Territories Citizen"
  • The passport must contain one of the following endorsement stamps: "Holder is registered as a Bermudian", "Holder Possesses Bermudian Status" or "Holder is deemed to possess Bermudian status"

Cayman Islands[edit]

Whilst residents of the Cayman Islands, as British Overseas Territories Citizens, are eligible automatically to register as a full British citizen under Section 4(A) of the British Overseas Territories Act 2002, thereby able additionally to enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, they can alternatively enter visa-free using their Cayman Islands passports. To qualify under the latter method, their Cayman Islands passports must confirm their British Overseas Territories citizenship and be endorsed by the Cayman Islands Passport and Corporate Services Office with a Cayman-U.S. visa waiver, issued at a cost of $15–25 and valid for one entry.[101][102] They must travel directly between the Cayman Islands and the United States and their Cayman Islands passport must also have a validity of at least six months beyond their intended departure date from the United States.[103] If Cayman Islanders elect to enter the U.S. using the Cayman-U.S. visa waiver, they are not required to apply for an ESTA online, since they are not entering under the VWP.

Turks and Caicos Islands[edit]

British Overseas Territories Citizens by virtue of their connection to the Turks and Caicos Islands can enter the United States visa-free for short business and pleasure.[104] To qualify, they must not have had a criminal conviction or ineligibility, not violated U.S. immigration laws in the past and must arrive in the United States on a direct flight from the territory. In addition, they must present a Turks and Caicos Islands passport which states that they are a British Overseas Territory Citizen and have the right to abode in the Turks and Caicos Islands. In addition to a valid, unexpired passport, all travellers 14 years of age or older must present a police certificate issued by the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force within the past six months. All British Overseas Territories Citizens of the Turks and Caicos Islands who apply for admission at a port-of-entry that does not have direct air service to/from the territory, are required to be in possession of a valid visa to enter the United States.

Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau[edit]

Under the Compact of Free Association, citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia,[105] the Republic of the Marshall Islands,[106] and the Republic of Palau[107] (except for adopted children, citizens wishing to adopt while in the U.S., and citizens from any of these nations who acquired citizenship via an Immigrant investor program) may enter, reside, study, and work indefinitely in the United States without visas. These three sovereign nations hold the distinction of being the only countries in the world whose citizens do not require visas or other required documents (with the exception of a valid passport) for permanent residence, employment, educational pursuits, or for general visits in or to the United States. Time spent in the United States does not count towards permanent residency status, and those wishing to emigrate to the United States must obtain an immigrant visa prior to arriving in the country.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  3. ^ Visa Waiver Program Designated Countries
  4. ^ Citizens of Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, South Korea, Greece, Taiwan and Chile are required to present electronic passports.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Joined on October 1, 1991.
  6. ^ Joined July 29, 1996.
  7. ^ Joined on July 29, 1993.
  8. ^ Joined on February 28, 2014.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Joined on November 17, 2008.
  10. ^ Including Greenland and Faeroes.
  11. ^ Including Åland Islands.
  12. ^ a b Joined on July 1, 1989.
  13. ^ a b Joined on July 15, 1989.
  14. ^ Joined on April 5, 2010.
  15. ^ Joined on April 1, 1995.
  16. ^ a b Joined on July 29, 1989.
  17. ^ Joined on December 15, 1988.
  18. ^ Joined on July 29, 1991.
  19. ^ Including Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten.
  20. ^ a b Joined on August 9, 1999.
  21. ^ Including Azores and Madeira.
  22. ^ Joined on September 30, 1997.
  23. ^ Joined on November 1, 2012.
  24. ^ Citizens with Taiwanese national ID number only.
  25. ^ Joined on July 1, 1988.
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External links[edit]