Information about the Visa Waiver Program - Best Immigration Law Attorney | Los Angeles | The Law Offices of Omar Zambrano - Free Consultation 1-800-562-0004
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) gives permission to nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business purposes [visitor (B) visa purposes] for stays of 90 days or less without the need of obtaining a visa. The program was established in 1986 with the goal of removing unnecessary barriers for travel, and to stimulate the tourism industry, and permitting the Department of State to focus resources in other important immigration areas. VWP eligible travelers may apply for a visa, if they prefer to do so. Not all countries participate in the VWP, and not all travelers from VWP countries are allowed to use the program. VWP travelers are required to apply for authorization though the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), and are screened at their port of entry into the United States, and enrolled in the Department of Homeland Security's US-VISIT program.
Which countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)?
Currently, 35 countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program, as shown below:
|Germany||the Netherlands||United Kingdom|
Which travelers may use the Visa Waiver Program to enter the United States?
Nationals of the 35 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program may use VWP if:
|•||They have received an authorization to travel under the VWP through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)|
|•||They present the appropriate type of passport valid for six months past their expected stay in the United States (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions). This is a requirement in addition to other passport requirements for all categories of passports -- regular, diplomatic, and official - when the traveler is seeking to enter the United States for business or tourist purposes, for a maximum of 90 days;|
|•||The duration of their stay in the United States is 90 days or less for tourism or business (Visitor (B) visa) purpose of travel. (If in doubt, travelers should check with the nearest Embassy or Consulate to verify that what they plan to do is considered tourism or business.) Transit through the United States is generally permitted. Important Notice: Foreign media representatives planning to engage in that vocation in the United States are not eligible for VWP travel, as the purpose of their stay does not qualify as "business". These professionals must obtain a nonimmigrant media (I) visa. Note also that travelers planning to work or study cannot travel on VWP, and they must obtain the appropriate visa to travel to the United States.|
|•||If arriving by air or sea, they are traveling on an approved carrier and have a return trip ticket to any foreign destination.|
|•||They can demonstrate the intent to stay 90 days or less in the United States and demonstrate sufficient funds to support themselves while in the United States.|
VWP travelers who have been admitted under the Visa Waiver Program and who make a short trip to Canada, Mexico or an adjacent island generally can be readmitted to the United States under the VWP for the balance of their original admission period. See the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website for additional details. Also VWP nationals resident in Mexico, Canada or adjacent islands are generally exempted from requirements to show onward travel to other foreign destinations.
When does a national of a VWP country need to apply for a visa instead of using the VWP?
Nationals of VWP countries must meet the conditions noted in the section above in order to seek admission to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. Travelers who do not meet these conditions must apply for a visa. In particular, a visa must be requested if the traveler:
|•||Wants to remain in the United States for longer than 90 days, or envisions that they may wish to change their status (from tourism to student, etc.) once in the United States.|
|•||Wants to work or study in the United States, wants to travel as a working foreign media representative, wants to come to the United States for other purposes not allowed on a visitor visa, or intends to immigrate to the United States.|
|•||Is a national of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Republic of Korea, or the Slovak Republic AND DOES NOT HAVE an electronic passport with an integrated chip.|
|•||Is a national of one of the VWP countries not listed above AND DOES NOT have a machine-readable passport (MRP)(depending on the date the MRP was issued, renewed, or extended, it may also need to contain a digital photograph or an integrated electronic chip).|
|•||Intends to travel by private aircraft or other non-VWP approved air or sea carriers to the United States.|
|•||Has a criminal record or other condition making them ineligible for a visa.|
|•||Has been refused admission to the United States before, or did not comply with the conditions of previous VWP admissions (90 days or less stay for tourism or business, etc.).|
I was denied a visa on a recent visa application, may I use the VWP?
A recent visa denial for any reason could result in denial of an authorization via ESTA, additional questioning at the port of entry, or denial of admission to the United States. Applicants who are uncertain of whether they qualify for VWP travel may choose to apply for a visa.
What do I need to enter the United States under the VWP?
To request entry into the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, travelers must meet the requirements listed in Which travelers may enter the United States using the Visa Waiver Program? Each VWP traveler must present his/her own valid passport of the appropriate type. See What do I need to know about VWP machine-readable passport (MRP) and e-Passport?, What is a machine-readable passport (MRP)? and What is an e-Passport? for additional details. VWP travelers must also have authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and, until DHS eliminates the requirement for the paper form, present a completed and signed I-94W Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival-Departure Record to U.S. officials at the port of entry. I-94W forms are free and often provided by travel agents, airlines or cruise ships prior to arrival, but may be picked up and completed on arrival at the U.S. port of entry. Travelers may also be asked to provide evidence of onward travel or other documentation on the purpose of their stay in the United States. Travelers entering through land ports of entry must pay a small land border fee as prescribed in 8 CFR 103.7(b)(1).
What do I need to know about VWP machine-readable passport (MRP) and e-Passport requirements?
All VWP travelers, regardless of age or type of passport used, must present a machine-readable passport. In addition, depending on when VWP travelers' passports were issued, other passport requirements apply:
|•||Nationals of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Republic of Korea, and the Slovak Republic require passports with an integrated chip containing the information from the data page (e-Passport).|
|•||Nationals of other VWP countries:|
Please refer to the Visa Waiver Program Traveler Guide on the United States CBP website for additional details on passport requirements.
Passports, regardless of the type, must be valid for six months past the expected stay in the United States (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions). This is a requirement for all categories of passports - regular, diplomatic, and official - when the traveler is seeking to enter the United States for business or tourist purposes, for a maximum of 90 days.
If you are a traveler from a VWP country and your passport does not meet these requirements, you may want to consider obtaining a new VWP-compliant passport from the passport issuing authority in your country of citizenship. Otherwise you cannot travel under VWP and you must obtain a visa in your valid passport for entry into the United States.
What is a machine-readable passport?
A machine-readable passport has certain biographical data entered on the data page in accordance with standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Doc 9303, Part 1 Machine-Readable Passports. These standards address issues such as the size of the passport and photograph, arrangement of data fields, and the two lines of printed machine-readable data that appear at the bottom of the page. Machine-readable passports can be read by scanning the two lines of printed data through special readers. Travelers should contact their country's passport issuing agency or authority if they have any doubts related to whether their passport is machine-readable.
What is an e-Passport (or biometric passport)?
An e-Passport incorporates data related to an individual's identity; current ICAO guidelines call for e-Passports to include facial recognition data. The contours of individuals' faces are digitally mapped and stored on the chip so that a comparison of facial data for the bearer of the passport and the facial data of the person to whom the passport was issued can be made. You can readily identify an e-Passport, because it has a unique international symbol on the cover.
What should I know about machine-readable passports and family travel?
Families seeking to enter the United States under the VWP need to obtain an individual machine-readable passport for each traveler, including infants. A machine-readable passport typically has biographic data for only one traveler in the machine-readable zone. Because of the October 26, 2004 requirement that passport data be presented in machine-readable format, children included in family or parents' passports may be denied visa-free entry into the United States since only the primary traveler's biographic data is included in the machine-readable zone of the passport.
Entering the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) - What happens at the port of entry?
Detailed information about admissions and entry to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program can be found on the DHS Customs Border Protection website at Visa Waiver Program and Admission to the United States. Since September 30, 2004 VWP travelers have been enrolled in the DHS US-VISIT program when they arrive at U.S. ports of entry. Travelers should be aware that by requesting admission under the Visa Waiver Program, they are generally waiving their right to review or appeal a CBP officer's decision as to their application for admission at the port of entry. Likewise, if the traveler is later found to have violated the conditions of admission under the Visa Waiver Program, they do not have the right to contest a removal order (See CBP website for additional details.)
Is there a fee to use the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)?
There is a small land border fee for VWP travelers arriving at land ports of entry, per 8 CFR § 103.7(b)(1).
What about Canadian, Mexican or Bermudan citizens and VWP?
Canada, Mexico and Bermuda are not participants in the Visa Waiver Program. The Immigration and Nationality Act includes other provisions for visa-free travel for nationals of Canada and Bermuda under certain circumstances. See Citizens of Canada, Mexico and Bermuda. Since they are not part of the Visa Waiver Program, VWP requirements for machine-readable or biometric passports do not apply to nationals of Canada, Mexico or Bermuda. Also, it should be noted that some nationals of Canada and Bermuda traveling to the United States require nonimmigrant visas.
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