Visa Waiver Program

What is the US Visa Waiver Program?

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business [visitor (B) visa purposes] for stays of 90 days or less without the necessity of obtaining a visa. The Visa Waiver Program program was established in 1986 with the objective of eliminating unnecessary barriers to travel, stimulating the tourism industry, and permitting the Department of State to focus consular resources in other areas.

Visa Waiver Program (VWP) eligible travelers may still choose to apply for a visa, if they prefer. Moreover, not all countries participate in the VWP, and not all travelers from VWP-approved countries are eligible to use the program. VWP visitors are required to apply for authorization though the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA); are screened at their port of entry into the US, and are automatically enrolled in the Department of Homeland Security’s US-VISIT Program.

Which countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)?

There are 35 countries which participate in the Visa Waiver Program, as LISTED below:

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

Which travelers can use the Visa Waiver Program to enter the United States?

Foreign Nationals from the 35 participating countries 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)
  • IF they present the appropriate type of passport valid for six months past their expected stay in the United States.
  • IF the duration of their stay in the United States is 90 days or less for tourism or business –Visitor (B) visa– purpose of travel. NOTE: Travelers planning to work or study cannot travel on VWP -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.
  • IF 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 visitors who have been admitted under the Visa Waiver Program and who plan to make a short trip to Canada, Mexico can be readmitted to the United States under the VWP for the balance of their original admission period.

Does a Foreign National of a VWP country need a visa instead of using the VWP?

If Foreign Nationals of VWP countries do no meet the conditions listed above must then apply for a visa. More specifically, a visa must be applied for if the visitor:

  • Desires to remain in the US for more than 90 days, or is considering changing their status (from tourism to business or to student, etc.) once they are in the US.
  • Desires to work or study in the US; desires to travel as a working foreign media representative; desires to come to the US for other purposes not allowed on a visitor visa, or intends to actually immigrate to the US.
  • Is a Foreign National of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Republic of Korea, or the Slovak Republic and does not have a newer electronic passport with the embedded electronic chip feature.
  • Is a Foreign National of one of the VWP countries not listed above and does not have a electronic, “machine-readable-passport” MRP.
  • Desires to travel into the US via private aircraft or other “non-VWP approved” air or sea carriers to the US.
  • Has a criminal record making them ineligible for a visa.
  • Has been denied admission to the United States before.

Machine Readable Passport (MRP)

Each persons seeking to enter the United States under the VWP program need to obtain an their own machine-readable passport (MRP) for each visitor, including infants. Typically, a machine-readable passport has biographic data for only one visitor in the machine-readable zone. Ever since the October 2004 requirement that passport data be presented in machine-readable format, children included in family or parents’ passports may now be denied “visa-free-entry” into the US.

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