Visa Waiver Program
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.
- 1 Eligible countries
- 2 Nominated and roadmap countries
- 3 Admission rate
- 4 Adjusted Visa Refusal Rate
- 5 Overstay rate
- 6 Recent events of the program
- 7 History
- 8 Guam and Northern Mariana Islands Visa Waiver Program
- 9 Entry into American Samoa
- 10 Requirements for the visa waiver program
- 11 Visa Waiver Program restrictions
- 12 Citizens of foreign contiguous territories and adjacent islands
- 13 Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau
- 14 See also
- 15 References
- 16 External links
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). 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.
Visitors may stay for 90 days in the United States which also includes the time spent in Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, or the islands in the Caribbean if the arrival was through the United States. The ESTA is required if arriving by air or cruise ship. Visa Waiver applies without ESTA for land border crossings, but the VWP does not apply at all (i.e. a visa is required) if a passenger is arriving via air or sea on an unapproved carrier.
As of January 2016, the visa waiver does not apply in cases where a person had previously traveled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen on or after 1 March 2011 or for those who are dual citizens of Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria. Certain categories such as diplomats, military, journalists, humanitarian workers or legitimate businessmen may have their visa requirement waived by the Secretary of Homeland Security.
Nominated and roadmap countries
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. Of the original 19 countries, 10 have been admitted to the VWP. The remaining nine countries are:
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. Israel has not been included in the VWP reportedly in part because of its strict scrutiny of Palestinian Americans traveling to Israel, thus not fulfilling the mutuality requirement.
The European Union has been pressuring the United States to extend the Visa Waiver Program to its five remaining member countries that are not currently in it: Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Croatia. All of these are "road map countries" except Croatia, which only recently joined the EU. In November 2014 Bulgarian Government announced that it will not ratify the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership unless the United States lifted visas for its citizens.
Number of admissions into the United States per VWP country under the program (including the Guam and Northern Mariana Islands Visa Waiver Program) in fiscal year 2014:
|Papua New Guinea*||208|
* Only for Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
Adjusted Visa Refusal Rate
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. Due to time constraints, adjudicators profile applicants. Certain demographics, such as young adults, those who are single and/or unemployed, almost never receive visas. Adjudicators are evaluated on how fast they carry out interviews, not the quality of adjudication decisions. The validity of B visa decisions is not evaluated.
To qualify for the Visa Waiver Program, a country must have had a nonimmigrant visa 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%. In addition, the country must provide visa-free access to United States citizens and has to be either an independent country or a dependency of a VWP country (which has barred Hong Kong and Macau) (Until 4 April 2016, Argentina charged $160 to U.S. citizens to enter.)
In the table below, eligible countries are in bold, with their flag depicted and linked to their relevant individual article on Wikipedia. The Adjusted Visa Refusal Rate for B visas were as follows:
|Country/Region||2008 Rate||2014 Rate||Rate 2015|
|Antigua and Barbuda||21.7%||20.8%||20.17%|
|Central African Republic||39.6%||46.6%||32.43%|
|Guinea - Bissau||63.4%||56.5%||65.18%|
|Papua New Guinea||3.4%||7.4%||5.14%|
|Sao Tome And Principe||28.6%||10.7%||5.71%|
|St. Kitts And Nevis||25.0%||27.5%||26.6%|
|St. Vincent And The Grenadines||26.4%||24.1%||27.15%|
|Trinidad And Tobago||23.8%||21.2%||25.16%|
|United Arab Emirates||10.4%||4.8%||7.1%|
A number of visitors from the Visa Waiver Program countries overstayed the 90-day maximum. The Department of Homeland Security published a report for 2015 that lists the number of violations made by passengers who arrived via air and sea. The table below excludes statistics on persons who left the United States later than their allowed stay or legalized their status and shows only suspected overstays who remained in the country.
Recent events of the program
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. 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 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, 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 2015, 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."
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. 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. The bill would have changed the nonimmigrant visa refusal rate threshold - from 3% - to 10%, thus making (as of 2010) 28 countries 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.
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. "It is a removal of the last relic of Communism and the Cold War", said Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek.
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.
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.
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.
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. Organizations such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform and the Center for Immigration Studies still oppose Poland's admission both due to its continued high visa refusal rate, as well as its being a major source of illegal immigrants; the CIS also criticized South Korea's admission to the program on these grounds.
On October 2, 2012, Secretary Napolitano announced the inclusion of Taiwan into the program effectively as of November 1, 2012. 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. 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.
The visa refusal rate for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has dropped to 1.7% for HKSAR passport and 2.6% for British National (Overseas) passport as of 2012. Hong Kong met all VWP criteria but did 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. The former Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Donald Tsang, raised the issue with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during his visit to the U.S. in 2011 and was met with positive response. On May 16, 2013, a bipartisan amendment bill was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee but not ratified into law. On 10 August 2015, the U.S. Consul General to Hong Kong and Macau, Clifford Hart, said during an interview with South China Morning Post that the visa waiver is "not happening anytime soon", as the Visa Waiver law requires the participant to be a "sovereign state" and Hong Kong is not independent, thus ending the possibility of Hong Kong joining the program. He also denied that the failed lobbying effort of HKSAR government on this issue was a result of the refusal of detaining Edward Snowden in 2013.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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. 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
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 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). Travel is not permitted onwards to the mainland United States, and because of special visa categories for the CNMI foreign workers, traveling from the CNMI to Guam 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:
- Russia - 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.
- China - 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).
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).
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 Solomon Islands, though these countries were removed from the list of eligible nations for the new program.
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. 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.
Entry into American Samoa
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.
Requirements for the visa waiver program
The requirements for the visa waiver program are as follows:
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.
All visitors from VWP countries must hold a biometric passport.
Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)
All incoming passengers who intend to take advantage of the Visa Waiver Program are required to apply for a travel authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) online before departure to the United States, 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. The electronic authorization, which is valid for a two-year period, 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.
The standard requirement for passport validity is six 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.
Return or onward ticket
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.
Other eligibility requirements
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
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. 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.
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. 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.
Applicant should display social and economic ties which bind them to their country of origin or may be refused entry.
Citizens of foreign contiguous territories and adjacent islands
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.
Citizens of the Bahamas
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.
Citizens of Canada
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, but under different legislation from the Visa Waiver program. 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.
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, 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.
Certain British Overseas Territories Citizens
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. 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"
British Virgin Islands
British Overseas Territories Citizens by virtue of their connection to the British Virgin Islands can enter the neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands visa-free for short business and pleasure. Travelers must possess a valid British Virgin Islands passport and travel directly to the U.S. Virgin Islands in order to qualify for this territory-specific visa waiver arrangement. A visa is required for anyone traveling directly to Puerto Rico or the United States mainland.
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. 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. 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
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. 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
Under the Compact of Free Association, citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau (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.
- Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)
- Visa policy of the United States
- Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
-  - Visa Waiver Program - How can a country join the VWP?
- "Travel.state.gov". Travel.state.gov. 2009-07-01. Retrieved 2016-06-07.
- Visa Waiver Program Designated Countries
- Citizens of Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, South Korea, Greece, Taiwan and Chile are required to present electronic passports.
- Joined on October 1, 1991.
- Joined July 29, 1996.
- Joined on July 29, 1993.
- Joined on February 28, 2014.
- Joined on November 17, 2008.
- Including Greenland and Faeroes.
- Including Åland Islands.
- Joined on July 1, 1989.
- Joined on July 15, 1989.
- Joined on April 5, 2010.
- Joined on April 1, 1995.
- Joined on July 29, 1989.
- Joined on December 15, 1988.
- Joined on July 29, 1991.
- Including Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten.
- Joined on August 9, 1999.
- Including Azores and Madeira.
- Joined on September 30, 1997.
- Joined on November 1, 2012.
- Citizens with Taiwanese national ID number only.
- Joined on July 1, 1988.
- Full British citizens only. Details about the Visa Waiver Program
- DHS Announces Further Travel Restrictions for the Visa Waiver Program
- United States Begins Implementation of Changes to the Visa Waiver Program
- Alison Siskin (2007-01-24). Visa Waiver Program (PDF). Congressional Research Service. p. 14. Retrieved 2012-07-12.. Quote: "Currently there are 19 'road map' countries. They are Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Israel, South Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Taiwan, Turkey, and Uruguay."
- http://israel.usembassy.gov/consular/niv/visawaiver.html Embassy of the United States - Tel Aviv
- 64 FR 42006
- 68 FR 10955
- 2014 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics
- "Shortcuts to Immigration". Center for Immigration Studies. Retrieved 2013-10-10.
- "No Coyote Needed" (PDF). Center for Immigration Studies. Retrieved 2013-10-10.
- Visa Waiver Program. Alison Siskin. January 15, 2013, Congressional Research Service
- Adjusted Refusal Rate 2014
- Adjusted Refusal Rate 2015
- Entry/Exit Overstay Report Fiscal Year 2015
- "CRS Report for Congress" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- South Korea, and the rest of the EU members (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia).
- Calendar No. 715 108th CONGRESS 2d Session S. 2844,
- "Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 S.2611". Thomas.loc.gov. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- Hudson Institute Panel: Enduring Strains of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe 
- Sen. George Voinovich [R-OH, 1999-2010]. "Govtrack.us". Govtrack.us. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "Congress.gov". Congress.gov. Retrieved 2016-05-30.
- "Adjusted Refusal Rate B-Visa only, by nationality, fiscal year 2010" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-07-12.
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- "DHS Designates Malta as a Visa Waiver Program Country". Department of Homeland Security. 2008-12-22. Retrieved 2016-06-10.
- "HRT: single". Croatian Radiotelevision. Retrieved 2010-12-23.
- Spasena Baramova (2008-06-18). "Bulgaria signs interim agreement under visa waiver programme with the US". Sofiaecho.com. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "Secretary Napolitano Announces Greece's Designation as a Member of the Visa Waiver Program". Dhs.gov. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "Greeks Can Travel to U.S. under Visa Waiver Program Starting April 5 With an Easy Electronic Application". Athens.usembassy.gov. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
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- DHS Announces Taiwan’s Designation into the Visa Waiver Program from www.dhs.gov; 2 October 2012
- THOMAS search of "United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013", S. 462.
- Ron Kampeas, In U.S. fight over visa waiver exemption for Israel, both sides cite discrimination, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, April 15, 2013.
- "Adjusted Refusal Rate B-Visa only, by nationality, fiscal year 2012" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-05-16.
- "Return to 'moderate mainstream' path to achieve democracy, US consul urges Hong Kong". South China Morning Post. 2015-08-20. Retrieved 2016-05-23.
- "TRAVEL ADVISORY; Accord Allows Trips to Japan Without a Visa". The New York Times. 30 October 1988.
- "United States General Accounting Office: Implications of Eliminating the Visa Waiver Program" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-07-12.
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- "Most countries meet e-passport deadline - Defense". GovExec.com. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- Security Improvements to Visa Waiver Program Archived June 13, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
- "Australia Electronic Travel Authority: Am I Eligible?". Eta.immi.gov.au. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "Australian Electronic Travel Authority website". Eta.immi.gov.au. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "eVisitor: Eligibility". Immi.gov.au. 2008-10-29. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "Entry and Exit Formalities". Guam Visitors Bureau. Archived from the original on September 1, 2007.
The following countries are eligible for the Guam Visa Waiver Program: Australia, Brunei, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Taiwan (only authorized for citizens and residents arriving directly from Taiwan or arriving on a flight from Taiwan which stopped in Saipan en route, must possess a Taiwan National Identity Card), United Kingdom (including British National Overseas), Vanuatu, and Western Samoa.
- "Transition to U.S. Immigration Law in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands". United States Department of Homeland Security. November 21, 2008.
- "Traveling to Guam". Hongkong.usconsulate.gov. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "Important update in entry requirements parole for citizens of the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China for the CNMI only" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-10-19.
- "The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Transition to U.S. Immigration Law: Overview". United States Department of Homeland Security. November 18, 2008.
- "Marianas Visitors Authority". Mymarianas.com. Retrieved 2010-12-23.
- "Timaticweb.com". Timaticweb.com. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "Saipan Tribune". Saipan Tribune. 2008-11-26. Retrieved 2010-12-23.
- Travellerspoint Travel Community: Northern Mariana Islands-Red Tape from Travellerspoint
- Insular Area Summary for American Samoa Archived October 9, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
- Bloxham, Andy (2008-06-03). "US to demand 72hrs notice for British tourists". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2010-05-27.
- "NZers visiting US will have to register online". The New Zealand Herald. NZPA. 3 June 2008. Retrieved 30 November 2011.
- DHS: Fact Sheet: Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) Archived June 4, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
- 9 FAM 403.9-3(B)(2) Countries That Extend Passport Validity for an Additional Six Months After Expiration
- "8 USC §§ 1187, 1255(c)(4); Freeman v Gonzales, 444 F.3d 1031 (9th Cir. 2006)" (PDF). Ca9.uscourts.gov.
- "Visa Waiver Program". The American Embassy in The Hague.
- "Working (Legally) on a Visitor's Visa or Visa Waiver Entry". Usvisalawyers.co.uk.
- "U.S. Department of State: Visa Waiver Program (VWP)". State.gov.
- Visa denials retrieved 19 April 2012
- "Removal of Visa and Passport Waiver for Certain Permanent Residents of Canada and Bermuda". Federal Register. 68: 5190. 2003-01-31. Retrieved 2013-10-28.
- "U.S. Embassy in Nassau, Bahamas: Non-Immigrant Visas" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "Visa exemptions for Canadians and certain landed immigrants". americanlaw.com. Retrieved 2011-02-25.
- "8 CFR 212.1 - Documentary requirements for nonimmigrants. - Code of Federal Regulations - Title 8: Aliens and Nationality - Part 212: Documentary requirements: nonimmigrants; waivers; admission of certain inadmissible aliens; parole - vLex". cfr.vlex.com. Retrieved 2010-02-25.
- "Citizens of Canada, Bermuda and Mexico- When is a Visa Required?". Travel.state.gov. Retrieved 2010-12-23.
- "Cornell University ISSO: International Student Life". isso.cornell.edu. Retrieved 2011-02-25.
- "8 CFR 214.2(b) Visitors". uscis.gov. Retrieved 2013-06-19.
- "Canada Border Services Agency: Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative". Cbsa-asfc.gc.ca. 2010-12-17. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative". Getyouhome.gov. 2009-06-01. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "Consulate General of the United States in Hamilton, Bermuda:Bermuda Visa Exemptions". Hamilton.usconsulate.gov. 2011-06-28. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- BVI & USVI Visa Waiver Scheme from 'Government of the Virgin Islands' official website. 13 April 2016
- Embassy of the United States in Kingston, Jamaica: Non-immigrant Visas Archived March 10, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
- "Cayman Islands Government: New U.S. Travel Requirements". Gov.ky. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- Passport Office issues advisory[dead link]
- "Embassy of the United States in Nassau, Bahamas: Turks and Caicos Visa Exemptions" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "U.S. Embassy in Kolonia, Micronesia". Kolonia.usembassy.gov. 2012-05-06. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "U.S. Embassy in Majuro, Marshall Islands: Non-Immigrant Visas". Majuro.usembassy.gov. 2010-08-12. Retrieved 2014-04-02.
- "Embassy of the Republic of Palau in Washington". Palauembassy.com. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- Visa Waiver Program, Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State.
- Visa Waiver Program, U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
- Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)
- Visa Waiver Program: Passport Requirements Timeline, Department of Homeland Security.
- Visa Waiver Program, Congressional Research Service.