The Visa Waiver Program for US Visitors

The Visa Waiver Program was initiated to promote tourism to the U.S., and to ease the burden on the Department of State by allowing citizens of specific countries travel to the U.S. for no more than 90 days without obtaining a visa. As of January 12, 2009, anyone who wishes to travel to the United States without a visa as part of this program must apply for authorization through the electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).  They are screened at their port of entry and entered into the Department of Homeland Security’s US-VISIT program.

Requirements

Nationals of the countries listed above may participate in the VWP if they meet the following requirements:

  • Have authorization to travel through ESTA
  • Have a machine-readable passport which is valid for six months past their expected stay
  • Do not intend to stay more than 90 days with the purpose of business or pleasure
  • If arriving by air or sea, arrive on an approved carrier and have a return trip ticket to anywhere outside of the United States
  • Have sufficient means to support themselves while in the United States

US-VISIT and Biometrics

US-VISIT stands for the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology.  It is a program started in September of 2004 which requires specific non-U.S. citizens entering the United States to provide biometrics (digital fingerprints and a photograph) upon entry or –reentry to the United States.

Biometrics is an electronic collection of individual characteristics which make identification possible from anywhere an official has internet access and a computer.  The Enhanced Border Security and Entry Reform Act of 2002 mandated the use of biometrics in the process of issuing visas, or for those participating in the Visa Waiver Program.  Fingerprint can now be taken digitally and stored on a computer.  Digital facial recognition, which is a form of biometrics, is also available on e-passports. Anyone who refuses to submit biometric information will be denied entry into the United States.

As of January 18, 2009, additional non-U.S. citizens were added to the list of people who must provide biometrics upon entering the United States.  As of January 18, 2009, Canadians applying for admission for business or pleasure under the B-1 or B-2 nonimmigrant classification are not required to enroll in US-VISIT. Canadian citizens who are issued a Form I-94 (Arrival Departure Record) must now enroll in US-VISIT.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) retains the right to demand that non-U.S. citizens submit to a secondary inspection at any border or port of entry and retains the right to request US-VISIT enrollment prior to allowing entry or re-entry into the United States.

Waive Appeal Rights

Travelers should know that when they request admission under the Visa Waiver Program, they generally waive their right to review or appeal of a CBP officer’s decision to deny an application for admission at the port of entry.  Also, if a traveler is found to have violated the conditions of admission at a later date, a traveler under the VWP cannot contest a removal order.

Ineligible for VWP

Even if you are from a participating VWP country, you would need a visa to enter the United States under the following conditions:

  • If you intend to stay in the U.S. beyond 90 days
  • If you want to work or study in the U.S.
  • If you don’t have an electronic passport*
  • If you plan to arrive by private aircraft or any other carrier not on the list of approved carriers

*As of July 1, 2009, all visitors to the U.S. who arrive on the Visa Waiver Program must have an electronic passport (e-passport).  In addition to identifying data on the e-passport, it contains a facial recognition chip which stores a digital map of the passport bearer’s face.

Participating Countries

In order for a country to qualify as a participant in the VWP, the country must meet security and data collection requirements.  They must also have advanced law enforcement and share security information with the United States.  The following countries currently participate in the VWP program:

Countries Participating in the Visa Waiver Program

  • Andorra
  • Australia
  • Belgium
  • Brunei
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Monaco
  • The Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • San Marino
  • Singapore

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